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Searching the Sound Archive catalogue for wildlife sounds

The Sound Archive catalogue provides access to details of nearly three-and-a-half million recordings. Eighty thousand unpublished wildlife recordings, over two thousand published CDs, cassettes, LP discs and many radio broadcasts and unpublished interviews with key figures in the sound recording and scientific communities. are detailed in the catalogue. The following is a guide to searching for wildlife recordings on the catalogue.

Each species in the catalogue is classified by a string of names in the style:

scientific ('Latin') name : common name in English - zoological family name

Example: Panthera tigris : Tiger - Felidae

The scientific name is useful because it is understood internationally and is less ambiguous than the common English names. Furthermore, many lesser-known animals do not have a common name. The scientific names are composed of firstly the genus name (e.g. Panthera) followed by the specific name (e.g. tigris).

Sometimes there is a third scientific name for the geographical race or subspecies. For example, the altaicus in the name Panthera tigris altaicus denotes the Siberian race of the Tiger. Note, however, that the subspecies name is only given in a minority of recording so if you are searching for a particular subspecies you will need to check the locality of the recordings under the species name, rather than the subspecific name.

Your search results may include non-wildlife entries that contain your initial search terms. For example, entering the search term 'JAGUAR' will offer not just the mammal, but discussions about a brand of motor cars, record labels containing the word, or people called Jaguar. When you see a cross-reference button, try selecting it to display the proper Sound Archive search string for the wildlife species. You can then link on this to find all entries for a specific animal. Another method of excluding non-wildlife recordings from your search is to select the 'limit search' button. Then choose from one of the drop-down menus. Selecting WILDLIFE in the 'collection:' option will exclude all non-wildlife recordings.

Many recordings have been ranked according to quality of the recording:

  • 'A' = recording of subject strong and without distortion and obtrusive background sounds
  • 'B' = recording of subject moderately strong or marred by distortion or obvious background sounds
  • 'C' = recording of subject very weak or both distorted and obscured by loud background sounds
  • '+' and '-' are used to further subdivide the quality.

Simple searching

There are various ways in which to search the catalogue. For beginners, the "Search Everything" function is recommended. This trawls every word of every catalogue entry and is thus the most comprehensive search mode. If it has a drawback it is that it can be unwieldy.

Searching for a particular species

You may search using any one or a combination of common, scientific, or family names.

Examples using just the common name:


Bear in mind that there are many variants for the common species names, so if you do not find what you want, try alternative names.

Examples using the equivalent scientific names:


You can combine search terms using AND, OR, NOT to help refine the search. This is useful if your initial search yields too many results. Examples using a combination:

GIBBON AND ENGLAND will find recordings of gibbons recorded in zoos in England
GIBBON NOT ENGLAND will find recordings of wild gibbons and gibbons in zoos outside of England.

Searching for a group or family of animals

Search under the appropriate family name. To find out what family name to use, first find a member of a group and then do a new search under the family name.

Example: to find members of the cat family, enter CAT or LION or TIGER, then look for a representative of the group in the results list, e.g. 'Panthera tigris: Tiger- Felidae'. If you find too many non-wildlife examples, click the blue 'Limit Search' button, then select WILDLIFE in 'Collection'.

Then start a new search with the family name, in this case FELIDAE. You may also find the cross-reference button helpful at this stage.

Browsing a list of species

To view an alphabetical list of animals by Latin name, enter the genus in full or in part in the 'Begins With' search. Then select the 'Name' search button. This option is useful for browsing lists of related species and to see how they are classified. Note that many species names are not subdivided into subspecies or races. If you see a subspecies in a browse list there may well by other examples of the same race and other subspecies, but catalogued under just the species name.


Panthera tigris: Tiger - Felidae
Panthera tigris altaicus: Siberian Tiger - Felidae

There may be recordings of Siberian and other races of tigers listed under the first name as well.

Searching for an environmental sound

Sounds of habitats ('ambient', 'atmosphere' recordings or natural soundscapes) are best found by entering ATMOSPHERE in the 'Begins With' search under 'name'. You will see a scrollable list of habitat types grouped in seven zoogeographical regions: Antarctica, Afrotropical (= sub-Saharan Africa and Madagascar), Australasian (= Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and Micronesia), Nearctic (temperate North America), Neotropical (tropical Middle America and all of South America), Oriental (Asia), Palearctic (Europe, North Africa and the Middle East).

To find natural sounds: enter for example WEATHER or WATER in the 'Begins With' search and then select the 'Name' search button. You will see entries for sounds of weather, wind, thunder, and seawash and other natural sound effects.

See also under Advanced search tips.

Searching by country or place

Enter the country name and select the 'place' search.

Searching for a published recording or broadcast

Enter the title, for example "British Bird Sounds" and select the 'title' search button if you are confident of the correct title. Search under 'title' using the 'Begins With' option if you are not sure of the exact title.

Advanced searching

The advanced search is a powerful way to narrow your search to find exactly what you need.

Combination searches


  • To find all wildlife recordings from Iceland recorded before 1970:


    Search Catalogue  
    Search limits


  • To find all habitat (atmosphere) sound recordings:


    Search Catalogue 
     leave these blank
    Search Limits
    broad classn: 


  • To find all natural sound effects (waves, wind etc):


    Search Catalogue
     Leave these blank
    Search Limits
    broad classn:  
    SFX-Sound effects


  • To find all recordings of Eurasian Blackbirds made outside England:


    Search Catalogue 

    The above example will include recordings where Blackbirds are only in the background. To restrict the search to recordings where the Blackbird is in the foreground, enter TURDUS MERULA in the name search box.


Further information

Cheryl Tipp
Curator, Wildlife Sounds
The British Library
96 Euston Road
United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)20 7412 7403
Fax: +44 (0)20 7412 7441