Birdsong apps could interfere with wildlife

Birdsong mobile phone apps could potentially be a threat, diverting birds from feeding their chicks and nesting, according to experts.

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Birdsong mobile phone apps could potentially be a threat, diverting birds from feeding their chicks and nesting, according to experts.

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The recorded bird songs that can be played through a mobile phone speaker, have been referred to by the RSPB as a “harmful misuse” of technology. In particular, they referred to their use at Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour to imitate the Nightjar loud ‘churring’ calls for males to attract mates.

Tony Whitehead, public affairs officer for the RSPB in the South West told the BBC: “Repeatedly playing a recording of birdsong or calls to encourage a bird to respond in order to see it or photograph it can divert a territorial bird from other important duties, such as feeding its young”.

The Dorset Wildlife Trust is concerned about this perceived disruption to the rare nightjar’s habitat and has launched an online campaign to alert visitors after several incidents have occurred on Brownsea Island.

The nightjar in particular is rare and enjoys a secure, comfortable haven on the island. All nesting birds on the site have Special Protection Area status and are protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, which makes it an offence to intentionally disturb any nesting bird.

The Trust has strongly recommended and warned visitors and photographers against using the bird apps on all of the 42 reserves the Trust owns, and signs are now present.

However, there is now a debate with regards to the positive and negative impact of the birdsong app.

Mr Whitehead states: “It is selfish and shows no respect to the bird. People should never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season.”

Brownsea Island nature reserve manager Chris Thain told the BBC that the use of these apps are unsuitable for nature reserves and “can be potentially harmful to sensitive species.

“The apps are becoming quite common, and are great, but their use needs some guidance I feel”.

iSpiny developer, Hilary Wilson openly encourages the discussion along the ethical use of the bird song apps, but argues the apps were a learning tool.

Dr Wilson, who oversees the ‘Chirp!’ app added that iSpiny was the UK’s leading developer of apps about birds and bird song, which aims to “assist in learning and identifying bird songs and calls, but we realise that they may be used to encourage birds to respond.

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“We urge great caution – birdsong is simply a pleasant sound to human ears, but to birds it is a powerful means of communication… the issue with recordings is simple – out of consideration for both the birds and fellow birdwatchers, just keep the volume low.”