Recording animal sounds has a long tradition in Berlin. The first gramophone records with bird song recordings were produced in the 1930s - "Gefiederte Meistersänger - Das erste tönende Lehr- und Hilfsbuch zur Beobachtung und Bestimmung der heimischen Vogelwelt" (Feathered master singers –the first textbook with sound for the observation and identification of indigenous birds) by Oskar Heinroth (1871-1945) and Ludwig K. Koch (1881-1974).
The actual Animal Sound Archive was founded by Günter Tembrock (1918-2011) in 1951. The purpose of the collection was to document vocalisations of animals in a behavioural context. At first, the red foxes kept at his institute were at the heart of his bioacoustics research. Over a period spanning from January 1952 to April 1966, the acoustic communication of the animals was recorded on 345 tapes – over 20 recorded hours in total.
In the mid-1950s, animals from both the Berlin Zoo and the Tierpark were increasingly included in bioacoustics research, and the recordings made there provided the bulk of the material for Günter Tembrock’s overview of acoustic animal behaviour, published in the 1963 compilation "Acoustic behaviour of animals".
As recording equipment became more mobile, sound recordings could be made in the animals’ natural habitats from 1960 onwards. Such recordings were used by Günter Tembrock and Michael Schubert for the vinyl record produced in 1967 at Eterna, VEB Deutsche Schallplatte. This record entitled "Waldvögel" (woodland birds) was the first in a series "Stimmen der Vögel Mitteleuropas" (Birdsong from Central Europe), which became an indispensable tool for many amateur ornithologists.
While in the early years, most recordings came from the Berlin and Brandenburg area, recordings from more remote regions were added later. These include recordings by Dieter Wallschläger in connection with his ornithological excursion to Mongolia (1979 and 1983) and by Ulrich Lundberg from his Antarctica expedition (1981/82).
Since 1995, when the archive became part of the Museum für Naturkunde Berlin, the collection has been continuously expanded, not only by recordings from ongoing research projects, but also by purchasing or receiving entire animal sound collections. Thus, the Animal Sound Archive manages the entire bioacoustic bequests of Klaus Conrads, Erwin Tretzel and Gerhardt Thielcke.