Guest blog: A DIY low-budget NocMig parabolic microphone by Franck Hollander

Inspired by the introduction of “La migration nocturne par le son” from Wroza & Rochefort (Delachaux et Niestlé 2021), I wanted to build myself a cheap parabolic microphone. I was always a bit lazy to do so; especially melting Plexiglas in the oven to shape your own parabolic dish was not my favourite idea. But when I found out that a squirrel dish could be used to construct your own parabolic mic, I started as soon as I could. You need of course to be able to solder (or know someone who does it for you) the capsule microphones to a 3.5mm audio jack.

Here below, you find some ideas on the material needed to build your own parabolic microphone (feel free to improve it). There are two versions, with a single pair of capsules and with a dual pair of capsules.

Franck Hollander (

A. Parabolic mic with 2×1 capsules

1. Parabolic dish

You find different “squirrel baffles” on the internet, most of them are 40 cm in diameter. That is a good size (the Dodotronic dish is over 50 cm, but it doesn’t amplify necessarily much more, see section D). A 40 cm dish is also easier to carry around. I bought the Audubon dish for 40 EUR (incl. delivery costs). Here is another good dish (50 EUR with delivery costs).

2. Capsule microphones

These very small microphones (used in the Dodotronic dishes) are extremely powerful, and probably the best option for NocMig recordings (not per se for the quality of the recording, but especially for its reach). The most powerful ones are the EM272 (sensitivity -28 dB, sold on, and even a bit more performant the Pui Audio AOM-5024 (sensitivity -24db, sold on I used the AOM-5024 model (you need to buy 20+ of them to avoid the high shipping costs).

To solder the EM272 capsules, a tutorial is found here.

To solder the AOM-5024 capsules, you can use this tutorial. See Figure 1 below for some of the different steps.

Figure 1. Soldering AOM-5024 capsules. (A), (B) you cut your 3.5mm audio jack (I use this one) so you can use the coloured internal wires. On the one I use, green is (-) and red and white are (+). (C) Free about 1 cm of the copper wires. (D) Use lead-free solder wire to cover a small layer on the copper wires. Try to have end-up with a little bullet of solder at the end of the wire, it eases the next step. Ideal solder temperature is 260-280 degrees. (E), (F) Now solder the wires of the audio jack to the capsule. Solder on capsule 1 the red on (+), the green on (-). On the AOM-5024 capsules, only the (+) is indicated. The other one, is obviously the (-) pole

3. Audio jack

These very cheap audio jacks work well, and you can use them twice. If you want to buy other ones, think about buying some that are “double-wired” (each channel in a separate wire). On some modern 3.5mm audio jacks, you find both channels in one wire, and it sometimes brings problems (pers. comm.). Also, don’t forget you want stereo audio jack, so with two black bands on the plug (and not one, or three as for smartphones).

4. Solder material

If you don’t have solder material at home, you can buy for instance this one: it is cheap and works well. There is also a bit more expensive material, certainly worth if you want to solder more in the future (and not only for your parabolic microphone).

5. Handle and microphone holder

The Audubon dish has a central opening, where I fixed a 1 ½’’ sink strainer to it. It allows you to screw a 1 ½’’ siphon to it (straight or bended). I know, not all very glamorous material, but keep the low budget of this DIY dish in mind! 😉

I inverted the screw of the sink strainer (so that it goes inside the dish). I then screwed a “microphone holder” on it, which is a metal piece I found at home (it is probably originating from an IKEA furniture, very similar to this one). The interesting feature is that there is a vertical opening which allows to slice your microphones in or out of the parabolic dish. Having your capsules a bit outside the dish, increases the probability to capture migrating birds calling from the side. However, you also increase the number of local birds on your recordings. Having one set of microphones inside, and another set outside the dish might compromise this issue (see further).

After soldering the capsules in the audio jack, I fixed these to this “chair angle”, that I then fixed on the “slicing” microphone holder (see Fig. 2). You can simply tape the wires and capsules to the chair angle. After that, do not forget to protect the capsules with a plastic cover (I simply use cling film, very thin and still waterproof).

Figure 2. The different elements inside the parabolic dish.

6. Wind shield

A wind shield is not only interesting for wind itself, but also to protect your microphones against water and humidity. I use a chair protection cover in polyester, and it works quite well. Even on a rainy night, the plastic film protecting the microphones were not even wet. What helps is to put a little “roof” (not too large of course) on top of the slicing microphone holder (any object you find), it again protects the microphones from rain, and is not giving such a sharp tension to the wind shield with the microphone holder. In addition to the wind shield, I also included some protecting foam close to the microphones, coated with some plastic cling film (see Figure 3).

Figure 3. Close-ups of the capsules, and an example how to protect those with some cling film.

The DIY dish is compact, easy to transport and not heavy, and looks in the end as in Figure 4.

Figure 4. The DIY dish with its wind shield and the audio jack coming out of the siphon.

B. Parabolic mic with 2×2 capsules

The parabolic dish with 2 capsules gives excellent results and is comparable to the Dodotronic (see section D). A possible upgrade is to have 2×2 capsules separated from each other. This allows, for instance, to place a set of 2 capsules inside the dish, and another set of 2 capsules a bit outside the dish. The idea here is to enable the separation of a flying (migrating) bird above the dish, with a local bird calling from the side (note that this could also be done with a 2×1 setup). This could be of matter for species rarely calling in the middle of the night, and where it remains unsure if it concerns a local bird or an actively migrating bird (ex. Blackcap, Common chiffchaff). When migrating and calling above the dish, both channels should display a similar amplification. For a local bird calling from the side, or even better at a lower position when you place your dish at a higher location (ex. roof), calls on the channel outside the dish should be more amplified than those inside the dish. Alternatively, you can also place the 2×2 microphones all outside or inside the dish, it increases a bit the recording power, but probably also increases a bit the amount of background noise.

To build such a setup, you should solder a “bridge” between two capsules on the same channel (left or right), using again a piece of audio jack and the same soldering process as before by respecting the colour poles (+/-). Such a bridge is displayed on Figure 5.

Figure 5. A set of 2×2 AOM-5024 capsules connected with a bridge.

C. Costs for the DIY parabolic microphone

  1. Parabolic dish: 40 EUR (incl. shipping)
  2. Capsule microphones (4x AOM-5024): 31 EUR (incl. 20 EUR FedEx shipping)[1]
  3. Handle and microphone holder (incl. screws, chair handle): 15 EUR
  4. Wind shield: 10 EUR (incl. shipping)
  5. Audio jack: 1 EUR (incl. shipping)
  6. Shipping: 8 EUR (when 1, 2, 4 and 5 are ordered together on amazon)


Extra: solder kit (20 EUR)

D. Comparative tests

I compared my DIY parabolic dish with the Hi-Sound Mono dish (with 4 capsules) from Dodotronic (600 EUR inc. VAT and shipping) by recording three nights in October 2021. In a nutshell: results are very similar. Overall, both dishes have a comparable detectability (sometimes one dish captured better a far-calling bird than the other, probably depending from where the migrating bird was calling and/or the dish position). Four capsules increased a little bit the recording “power” compared with 2 capsules, but not significantly (so working with two capsules is perfect too). I had no local birds calling during the night, so this theory could not be tested. Here below some illustrations from the different recordings. Fig.6 illustrates birds at close range, and both dishes give comparable results. Fig. 7 and 8 show that some calls are more amplified on one or the other dish, probably depending on the angle from wish the bird called.

Figure 6. Redwing calls (above: Dodotronic Hi-Sound Mono, below: DIY parabolic)
Figure 7. Blackbird and Song Thrush calls (above: Dodotronic Hi-Sound Mono, below: DIY parabolic)
Figure 8. Common Snipe calling during NocMig (above: Dodotronic Hi-Sound Mono, below: DIY parabolic)

Fig. 9 illustrates a bird calling at mid-range, where it got more amplified on the Dodotronic compared to the DIY dish. Such cases occurred interchangeably between both dishes, merely depending on the position of the dish and/or angle of calling. Main result is that in almost all such cases, the species could always be identified on both dishes. So only the amplification of the recording varied depending on position, not on the material itself.

Figure 9. Ring ouzel calling during NocMig (above: Dodotronic Hi-Sound Mono, below: DIY parabolic)

E. Stereo parabolic microphone with 2×1 capsules

The interest of separating the microphones physically from one another (with a shield between both capsules) lies in fact that one channel might amplify more than the other, thereby giving some information on the flight direction. This only works in rarer cases but might still be interesting in certain studies.

Again, with the idea to build such a system in the cheapest way, I recycled some materials I found at home: an old TV socket and the case of a very bad Christmas CD that I wanted to throw anyway 😉. I used part of the plastic CD cover as shield to separate both capsules, and the TV socket to hold the capsules. Again you can slice the microphones outside or inside the dish, and the capsules point well in the middle of the dish. Of course, many other inspirational ideas can reach (or improve) this setup, just try it! Here below some pictures.

Figure 10. A set of 2×1 AOM-5024 capsules separated by a plastic shield to create a stereo effect.

E. Conclusions

Although the dish diameter being a bit smaller, the DIY dish showed comparative results to the Dodotronic dish. The advantages being the lower price, the compactness (for transport for instance) and the flexibility in mount type (straight or bended siphon, microphones inside or outside the dish). Given the lower price, you might also risk to leave your DIY dish for a longer period outside (indeed with a good weatherproof protection of the capsules) or in an interesting habitat. The disadvantage is that it does not look very professional (with a siphon and a sink strainer…) and is possibly a little less robust as the Dodotronic version (with more metallic parts).

[1] The best is to buy 25 capsules, then you are just above 50 EUR and there are no shipping costs (so you are at around 2 EUR/capsule). You can for instance use the other capsules to record birds during the day in interesting habitats 😉

SM4-mini positioned in a parabolic reflector

Nocmig with an SM4-mini

Earlier this autumn I bought a Wildlife Acoustics SM4-mini to use for a long-term nocmig project in North Norfolk. I set this up with a spare fibre glass parabolic reflector that was generously given to me, to improve the range of the microphone. The whole setup was fixed to a garden shed in a coastal village and angled slightly towards the coast and away from nearby trees.

The kit

The SM4-mini is pretty compact (approx. 5″ x 6.5″ x 1.5″), runs off 4 AA batteries and takes standard SD cards. The box is rugged and waterproof and has slots and holes for attaching it to things. The setup includes a single microphone but there is a second port to add an optional second microphone for stereo recordings.

One feature I really like is the mobile app used to configure the device. The device broadcasts a Bluetooth signal which provides basic info like how many recordings have been made to date. Open the box and press the pair button and you connect your mobile app to the device to control all the settings. It is highly customisable. For example, you can configure your own on/off cycles, or allow the devise to use sunset and sunrise times as the basis of the routine.

As you’d expect, you can control the sample rate, the length of files and the gain setting. You can also set a delayed start time. On my last deployment I knew the weather was going to be horrendous for a few days so I delated the start until after the bad weather to save on battery/card life.

Given the particular batteries, card and configuration you’ve selected, the app will estimate when the batteries will be depleted and when the memory card will be full.

The sounds

So what about the recording quality? I think it is pretty good as can be judged from the following recordings:

Common Scoter, Blakeney, 09/10/20 22:26. Unedited

Gadwall, calls of male and female, Blakeney, 29/09/20 01:23. Unedited

Great Bittern, Blakeney, 14/10/20 05:23. Unedited

Migrating thrushes and local Robins. Blakeney, 14/10/20 06:40. Low pass filter to reduce sound of central heating boiler

These are cherry picked interesting examples from my most recent deployment but I think they are representative of the quality the recorder provides. The recorder has run continuously since mid August with no failures or errors. I haven’t done any side-by-side tests of this (with or without the reflector) against other recorders.


I’m very pleased with the device for the following key reasons:

  • it’s waterproof
  • it’s easily programmed via a nice mobile interface
  • it runs autonomously for 3 weeks (on my settings)
  • it produces nice clear nocmig recordings

When I retrieve the recorder I will try to make some side-by-side recordings with other equipment.

PS: for anyone considering mounting an SM4-mini in a parabolic reflector, getting the microphone element at the precise focal point of the dish is critical. Without removing the foam windshield of the mic it is hard to know where the mic element is located, but I was told by Wildlife Acoustics that it is 16mm (±1mm) from the outside of the case.

EM172 lapel mic, Zoom H4n Pro audio recorder, Audiomoth and mini USB mic (photo: Simon Gillings)

Equipment Comparison February 2020

On one of the few calm nights in February 2020 I tried to make simultaneous recordings of the same flight calls using a variety of equipment. I tested:

  1. A cheap USB microphone connected to a desktop PC. Mic level set to 90/100.
  2. An AudioMoth in a plastic bag. Gain set to Medium
  3. An AudioMoth in a homemade waterproof case. Gain set to Medium.
  4. A lapel microphone (EM172) with a digital audio recorder (Zoom H4n Pro; record level set to 80/100).
  5. A Dodotronic parabolic microphone with a digital audio recorder (Sound Devices MixPre 3; gain set to 25dB)

There was very little bird movement but I got useful comparisons for a Redwing and a Moorhen pass. Below is a recording of each call and a side-by-side comparison of the spectrograms.


A single Redwing call at 2010. The call is a bit atypical but still conveys the quality of the recording using the different equipment. Without adjusting the gain on the USB recording this call is inaudible. It is visible and audible on all the other equipment setups but is stronger and more clearly defined on the final two recordings. The bird was not directly overhead, which explains why the lapel mic and parabolic mic have similar performance. Had the bird been directly above the parabolic dish that recording would have been much louder.

Cheap USB mic and computer:

AudioMoth in bag:

AudioMoth in case:

Digital audio recorder and EM172 lapel mic:

Digital audio recorder and parabolic reflector:

Spectrogram comparison
Redwing comparison 2



The Moorhen call was picked up and visible on all recorders, though it was still faint on the USB. On the two AudioMoth recordings only the first kek-kek-kek series is clearly visible whereas on the Lapel mic and Parabolic mic recordings the subsequent kek-kek notes are also clearly visible.

Cheap USB mic and computer:

AudioMoth in bag:

AudioMoth in case:

Digital audio recorder and EM172 lapel mic:

Digital audio recorder and parabolic reflector:

Spectrogram comparison
Moorhen comparison 2



Based on this very limited comparison the USB mic would miss some birds, though I should note that the mic used here is quite old and newer models might be more sensitive. More distant calls, calls of quiet birds, or calls where fine detail is needed for identification (e.g. flycatchers) might be easily missed or hard to identify with the AudioMoth. I did not run the AudioMoths on the high gain setting which might partly explain the slightly poorer detections. Previously I have found high gain generated too much white noise (hiss) in the recordings. Next time there is a break in the wind I will try again…


The wind dropped again briefly and I was able to make a comparison of two AudioMoths, one with gain set to Medium and another with gain set to High. Again not many birds moving so not many comparisons possible. Of three Redwings detected by parabola: i) one was not detectable via either AudioMoth; ii) one was missed on Medium gain and barely visible on High gain; iii) one was picked up by both with negligible difference in sound quality. Of two Song Thrush calls detected by the parabola: i) one was missed by the Medium gain AudioMoth and just visible on the High gain one; ii) the second call was visible on all as can be seen in the following comparison:

ST call cf

Note this bird was not directly overhead, as evident from differences between the left and right channels of the parabolic recording. Without knowing these calls were present from the parabolic recording I may well have missed some of them in the AudioMoth recordings.

The lack of birds prevented a more detailed comparison but this does suggest the high gain setting might be better for the AudioMoths for nocmig.

Standardised Nocturnal Flight Call Monitoring

Recording nocturnal flight calls is seeing a big surge in interest in Europe and all this effort scrutinising hours of audio has the potential to generate invaluable data on a large scale for understanding movement patterns of birds. Witness the amazing nocturnal movements of Common Scoters through inland England recorded in April-May 2018, the tantalising records of nocturnal Ortolan Buntings in southern England and continental Europe, and the amazing breadth and magnitude of nocturnal movements through Besh Barmag, Azerbaijan. There’s much to learn if the data can be collected and collated in a consistent manner.

protocol_coverBTO, Sound Approach and Sovon have teamed up to produce a Protocol for Standardised Nocturnal Flight Call Monitoring (available here), and in parallel, significant improvements have been made to Trektellen for the submission and sharing of nocmig data. The protocol aims to highlight simple ways that recordings and the data extracted from them can be standardised whilst still allowing flexibility for local circumstances. It details aspects such as where and when to record, times of night to cover and which species to log. For example, we recommend that call logging starts no earlier than civil dusk and continues no later than civil dawn to exclude diurnal migrants. Ideally counts should be submitted in hourly blocks to allow future analyses of timing and weather, and all birds flying over should be logged whether they are considered to be migrants or local birds. These suggestions will be familiar to many seasoned recorders and should act as a guide for those just starting out.

Trektellen has been collecting nocturnal flight call data for several years and with the latest modifications it is now possible to submit numbers of individuals and numbers of calls, which will be invaluable for species where estimating bird numbers is problematic. It is now easier to indicate which records relate to flying versus stationary birds and sound files uploaded to xeno-canto can now be embedded within Trektellen lists, which will be especially useful for sharing recordings of unusual or unverified records.

Alongside the advances being made by the Sound Approach and others in species identification, we hope this protocol promotes further interest in recording and submission of data from nocturnal flight call monitoring.

Nocmig recording in Cambridge

I started nocmig recording in March 2017 from my garden in Chesterton, one of the eastern suburbs of Cambridge. My garden is about 250 m from the River Cam but separated by a moderately noisy road and housing. In a birding sense it’s an uninspiring bit of the city and not somewhere you’d expect to have significant bird passage.

2017-03-28 08.07.36

My first recording gear was a very cheap USB microphone, the kind designed for Skype calls. For under £15 this gave me my first Moorhen and Water Rail for my nocmig garden list. In a bid to improve the quality of my recordings I upgraded to a Yeti USB mic but stubbornly stuck to using my computer to capture the audio. Spring 2017 was amazing for inland wader passage and I soon added Spotted Redshank and Grey Plover to a growing list of waders.

20170903 OBEarly September 2017 was a turning point – I was away with my family for the weekend and had taken the Yeti mic with me but on a whim decided to leave the mini USB running from Friday evening to Sunday. On my return I discovered that I had recorded not only a Sandwich Tern and a Tree Pipit but also an apparent plik call of an Ortolan Bunting – a potential first for Cambridgeshire. With hindsight, claiming an unseen county first based on a single call, when I was not even present, was asking for trouble. But it made me rethink my recording setup and invest in a proper microphone so that I’d be better prepared next time…

2017-10-17 21.11.41

Since October 2017 I’ve been using a Dodotronic Stereo parabolic microphone. Initially I had this connected via a 10 m cable to a Zoom H4n Pro recorder. Since early 2019 I’ve been using the mic with a Sound Devices MixPre-3 recorder. I recorded in Chesterton whenever I can and have so far recorded over 17,000 nocturnal flight calls of over 70 species, including highlights such as multiple Ring OuzelsCommon Scoter, Stone-curlew, Pied Flycatcher and Bittern.  I log all these records onto Trektellen to add to the picture it is building of nocturnal migration in Europe.

This website came about when Nick Moran and I found we wanted to collate the answers to many of the questions we had as we were starting out. I’m keen to promote nocmig recording and especially interested to see useful counts generated and submitted to Trektellen for wider research uses.