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Solar Panel in the bush

Tim Lardner, CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Hoot Detective is a digital interactive project where anyone around Australia with a connected device can become a citizen scientist.

It’s a partnership between ABC Science, the Australian Acoustic Observatory, Queensland University of Technology and the University of New England for National Science Week 2021.

You can participate in Hoot Detective until at least February 2022, but the competition to win binoculars closes at the end of August 2021.

What does it involve?

Citizen scientists listen to a short 10 second grab of audio that has been pre-selected as having a ‘sound of interest’ in it.  They will then choose the ‘sounds’ found in the audio from a short list, say owl, frogs, insects, koala and more. 

Where does the audio come from?

The Australian Acoustic Observatory is collecting sound from all over Australia to better understand the environment. They have put 400 sensors (recorders) in 360 sites across Australia and now have up to 2 years of continuous recordings.  

Each sensor collects one terabyte of data per year, and all the data is stored in a huge archive: an acoustic observatory.  In five years the observatory will have collected over two petabytes of sound, 2000 years of nature sound. 

Why does it matter?

The recordings in the Australian Acoustic Observatory are an important archive of vocal animal activity, and the first of its kind.

Scientists will be able to use the recordings to understand what creatures are where in Australia, and how our environment is changing in response to bush fires, floods, invasive species and climate change.

Why are citizen scientists needed?

To find bird, frog, insect and animal calls in a vast archive of sound, scientists need the help of citizen scientists.

The work of the citizen scientists will save scientists and researchers years of work in cataloguing the audio

It will also be used to help scientists to build and improve algorithms which detect species calls.

What is Hoot Detective looking for?

There are many owls in Australia and the observatory has recorded them from many locations. In Hoot Detective we’re listening to data from 10 sites.

  • Reedy Creek, QLD
  • Samford Valley, QLD
  • Tarcutta Hills, NSW
  • Little Llangothlin Reserve/Warra National Park, NSW
  • Little Desert Nature Lodge, VIC
  • Five Rivers, TAS
  • Arkaba, SA
  • Boyagin Nature Reserve, WA
  • Charles Darwin Reserve, WA
  • Newhaven, NT


Who are the researchers involved?

Professor Paul Roe – Queensland University of Technology – leads the Australian Acoustic Observatory.

Dr David Tucker – Queensland University of Technology  —  manages the Australian Acoustic Observatory data.  He is also a landscape ecologist with a research and working background focused on terrestrial ecological surrogacy, biodiversity monitoring and conservation management.

Professor Paul McDonald – University of New England — ornithologist and behavioural ecologist with the Australian Acoustic Observatory team. Paul’s team uses acoustic data to monitor a variety of species in terrestrial environments.

Dr Anthony Truskinger  — Queensland University of Technology — research software engineer at the Australian Acoustic Observatory, dedicated to improving ecoacoustics.


In keeping with the spirit of Reconciliation, this project would like to acknowledge all the Traditional Owners of land on which the acoustic observatory data is collected, and to pay our respects to their Elders, past present and future.

We also recognise the key role that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have always played in protecting and conserving the land and sea.

Image credit

Lucy the barn owl (in the slider), Russell Charters, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Copy credit

Information about the owls was written by Tanya Loos. 

Thanks to BirdLife for allowing us to link to their Nocturnal birds identifying guide.

Audio credits

The sample owl calls (Get Started) use audio from the following sources, under CC BY-NC-SA. Listed in order of appearance in the sample.

Powerful owl - Greg McLachlanNathan RuserTrevor SpeirsGreg McLachlan

Barking owl - Marc AndersonNiels Poul DreyerJohn MunroAUDEVARD AurélienNigel JackettTrevor Speirs

Southern boobook - Phil GregoryFriends of Black Hill and Morialta IncNigel JackettJames Lambert

Barn owl - EcosoundsGreg McLachlanNigel Jackett

Masked owl - Pieter de Groot BoersmaMarc AndersonGreg McLachlanGreg McLachlanGreg McLachlan

Site credits

Hoot Detective is funded by a Commonwealth Grant Agreement, and uses data collected by the Australian Acoustic Observatory.

Producer: Kylie Andrews, ABC
Developer: Bitcraft
Graphic Design: Julie Ramsden, ABC