Bird of the year / Pták roku

ptak roku

Bird of the year (ENG) / Pták roku (CZ)

Bird of the year. Little owl was picked up as the Bird of the year 2018 by the Czech Ornithological Society. Little owl got the well deserved attention of the society due to two main factors. Once, little owl was the most common species of owl in Czech Republic but now it is on the bring of extinction in the country. It is the species of healthy and diverse agricultural landscape. Further, some very interesting activities go on around little owl conservation efforts. I reccomend, at least, to list through the latest issue of the Ptačí svět magazine that is focused on little owls and associated activities. It is in Czech only but photos and illustrations are worth viewing on their own. Little owl is the model species for our identity signalling project and our activiteies were covered in the magazine as well (read PDF). Martin Šálek and his collaborators have been recording little owls during annual censuses for several years now. Thanks to these efforts we can work with quite unique dataset. We have six years of recordings for some of the sites!



Pták roku. Ptákem roku letos Česká ornitologická společnost vyhlásila sýčka obecného. Pozornost k sýčkovi stočily dvě věci. V první řadě se jedná o kdysi naši nejhojnější sovu, která ale v současné době na území ČR téměř vymizela. Přitom jde o druh, který je ukazatelem zdravé a pestré zemědělské krajiny. Zadruhé se okolo sýčka děje celá řada zajímavých věcí, které stojí za pozornost. Zájemcům doporučuji alespoň prolistovat aktuální číslo magazínu Ptačí svět, který sýčka a aktivity s ním spojené představuje. Sýček obecný je také důležitým modelovým druhem pro náš projekt o signalizaci indentity a náš výzkum hlasů sýčka byl v časopise také zmíněn (čtěte PDF). Martin Šálek a jeho spolupracovníci nahrávají sýčky při pravidelném sčítání sýčků již několik let a díky jeho úsilí máme k dispozici poměrně unikátní nahrávky. Vždyť na některých lokalitách se nahrává už šestý rok v řadě!


Bird of the year (ENG) / Pták roku (CZ)



Is that a man or a woman speaking?

Last week I was preparing workshops for Researchers Night taking place at our university on upcomming Friday, 29th September.

Besides other things, I plan to show how and why voices of men and women differ and I want let people experiment with some apps that allow to change their voices from male to female and vice versa.

The sex is part of individual identity and is in general very clearly expressed in voice fundamental frequency and voice timber. In most cases, it is pretty easy to distinguish male and female instaneously just by hearing their voice. However, sometimes it can be more tricky.

Be careful on phone conversations! Due to good understanding of how It is now possible to change the sex in your voice by technology. However, I would like to share something more striking to me. I stumbled across the videos of people perfectly imitating the oposite sex in real time. It is a great example of how good people are in imitating of sounds! And also an excellent example of how imitation ability can be used to steal  or change one’s vocal identity. I hope to write more about imitation and fake individual identity in future.

First example:


Second example:


Unfortunatelly, I could not find the good example of females imitating male voice. If you know about such example, please, share the link in comments!

Poster evolution

In the previous post, I described my experience at the ‘4th International Symposium on Acoustic Communication by Animals’. I presented a poster about individual variation of little owl territorial calls and about potential to use this variation for individual monitoring of little owl males.

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Schematic spectrogram of a little owl male territorial call.

Although oral presentations usually reach wider audience, I rather prefer posters over talks now. This is partly because I am not a natural born speaker and never learned properly how to give a talk in a way that it became a routine event to me. I tend to talk too much and I get more and more nervous with increasing age (once I hoped it will be the opposite).

Nevertheless, I also like posters because I like the combination of presenting data and making visually attractive item. I like the process of poster creation which is different and less fettered than in case of talks. I like how certain ideas emerge and disappear during the creation process. In this post, I do not intend to give any guidelines how to do a good poster. The information is online out there. For example, I like this youtube series about making academic posters. I think it is especially interesting to see different versions of the same poster – different designs, word reductions etc. Therefore, I would like to share the evolution of my poster.

The content was not a problem because I planned to use results from our recently published paper. So I could put more effort into playing around with graphic design. I knew I wanted to present individual variation in little owl calls and wanted the people experience that identify individuals is problematic in big groups by showing calls from many individuals at the same time and letting them assign a call to the right individual. I wanted a big figure of little owl to flagship the species. And I wanted to use QR codes to make the poster more interactive and to draw attention to the paper and related activities. This is the first version of the poster…

poster omaha 1-resized

In the second version, I included spectrograms for all 54 males in the study but I was not happy with the regular pattern of the spectrograms.

poster omaha 2 - resized

Then I got the feedback from Martin, the second author:’Just use the frequency modulation shapes and avoid the grids… And insert a big picture of little owl…’ Damn! How should I do that? Here is another try…

poster omaha 3 - resized

I felt the poster design was rubbish. The big photo did not look good so I started to experiment with schematic drawings of little owl (the owl eyes!) and I wondered how to organize 54 schematic call spectrograms so they make sense. The break came at the moment I changed the colour of spectrograms and started to arrange them around the owl drawing. Suddenly, I knew what I want to do and could not resist to this new idea. This is the final look of the poster. You can download the pdf version here.

poster omaha 5 - resized


The 4th International Symposium on Acoustic Communication by Animals

July 18-21, 2017, I attended the 4th International Symposium on Acoustic Communication by Animals, , Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo & Aquarium. Here is a brief report.

Conference venue

Henry Doorly Zoo
The Desert and Night Exposition in Henry Doorly ZOO & Aquarium

ISACA took place in Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo. I remember the buzz in Czech Republic when Prague Zoo was named as world’s 4th best zoo according to Trip Advisor.  Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo was ranked as the best. With all respect to Prague Zoo, they still have a way to go! This is an example how it looks like in Omaha Zoo: Lied Jungle.


Individual recognition and identity signalling

Overall, there were 54 talks and 7 of them were directly related to IR. Two from four keynote lectures! The topic of individual recognition and identity signalling (IR) is still popular. Zebra finch individuals can be discriminated both within and across call types (F. Theunissen). Dolphins match individual smells / tastes with individual signature whistles (V. Janik). Indris have individually distinct calls and similarity in calls is related to genetic similarity (G. Bonnadonna). Elephant seals do not seem to have stable local dialects. Instead, increasing population size and pressure to be individually distinct might drive huge increase in variation in calls of Elephant seals at the Californian coast (C. Cassey, hypothesis to be tested in future). Females of concave eared frogs call! They have non-linear phenomena in their calls as males do and these non-linear phenomena are characteristic for each individual female (F. Zhang). Up-calls of Northern Right whales are individually distinctive and hopefully could be used for the monitoring purposes of these endangered whales (S. Parks). High proportion of variation in gibbon female great calls can be explained by individuallity rather than by location (D. Clinck).

Amazing talks (no special order)

Vincent Janik

Can you train a seal to sing melody? Yes, you can! Will training of animals to mimic artificial sounds become a new way of documenting animal vocal learning and imitation capabilities of species? Here is one older interview about seal communication.

Erick Greene

Erick showed amazing visualizations of what happens in the forest when birds reveal predator and how this information travels in the forest. It was fun and informative talk. Do you think that naming the beer after your study model counts as broad impact for grant agency? Nope! Bird Alarm call network.  Interview with Erick Greene.  Hiphop song about Erick Greene’s research. ‘Pygmy Owl’ Itty Bitty IPA Beer inspired by Erick Greene’s research model species.


Marta Manser

Marta was talking about different studies conducted within the Kalahari meerkat project. It is amazing what data can you get when you habituate several species of meerkats to researchers presence! Kalahari Research Centre is ever growing and is opened to new projects. Check also for open to volunteer positions!

Laura Kloepper

Do you know what is a biological drone? This was a talk full of personal passion! “I want to know what it is like to be a bat flying in the swarm”.  „I want to fly drones and falcons…”. Here is an inerview with Laura.

Daniel Blumstein

When it comes to distress calls, it does not matter too much if you are a human, a bird, or a marmot… Daniel showed what ‘fear’ sounds like in animal vocalizations or in Hollywood films. “Can you patent this?” „No, you can’t.“ Daniel’s TEDx UCLA talk.

Arik Kershenbaum

Dolphins use specific whistle types when engaged in activities with humans. Are they talking about us? The research was done in a great place with semi-wild, habituated dolphins. And you can visit this place in Izrael! Eilat Reef! International Laboratory for Dolphin Behaviour Research. Eilat Reef review.

Brad Story

Brad Story took us on the fascinating road from a simple speech model to the functional model of human vocal tract that is able to replicate human speech. TubeTalker. Detailed talk about human speech modelling.

Setting-up the web…

P_20170505_185109 - nierozpoznani
“Nierozpoznani” (Unrecognized) by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Poznan, Cytadela city park. (Photo: Pavel Linhart)

Me and my family we moved to Poznan at the beginning of January 2017. “Unrecognized” – a sculpture at the Cytadela park in Poznan – could among others quite well characterize the new beginnings, opportunities, exploration of different directions… The figures without faces seem disturbing and anonymous, but they are not. Taking closer look they each bear characteristic scars and wrinkles on their bodies. Their path made them “Recognized” or “Recognizable”.

In upcomming year and half, this site will report progress of the project and I would like to write here about related topics as well.

Let see where the path will lead to!