When technology meets nature, just when you thought it was safe to back out in the countryside….it lurks, it looms ,…. it makes bird calls!
Yes, it seems unlikely but there is a serious problem about apps which can play birdsong and the concern is being aired by the Dorset Wildlife Trust (DWT) amongst others. DWT are fearful of the effect of apps which mimic bird calls on the birds themselves. In general terms these apps are a boon for dedicated twitchers and casual observers alike, enabling them to call up the sounds of the specific birds they are seeking in order to elicit a response or other reaction from the bird. In particular people wanting to get closer to a bird may use these recorded bird calls to lure a bird closer in order to be better placed to take a photograph. In fact, the tactic can be used when abroad on holiday to see the tropical birds in Costa Rica, something that many bird enthusiasts in the region such as Costa Rica Focus may know about. So, what harm could there be in imitating these calls?
According to the DWT it certainly is harmful and they have issued a warning against it, saying that “it causes disturbances and can be harmful to certain species, according to the conservation organization”. Brownsea Island Reserve Manager Chris Thain said: “The apps are becoming quite common, and are great, but their use needs some guidance I feel. I’m sure visitors would be devastated if they realised the possible disturbance they were causing to wildlife. We need to spread the word that use of these apps is not suitable for nature reserves and can be potentially harmful to sensitive species.”
The key problem is that the normal routine of a bird is seasonally driven and these calls may interrupt or disturb the natural daily routines or activities of the birds. The disturbance may even stop the bird nesting, foraging or feeding its young, none of which will protect the species.
In order to minimize the disturbance to wildlife the DWT has taken the step of issuing a statement to advise that the user of smartphone apps (and presumably any other form of playing back recorded birdsong) could cause problems. The 42 reserves in Dorset have also become zones where apps of this sort are discouraged as tools to lure birds closer to the observer.
Appdevelopersuk developed the iOS version of BirdTrack, organised by British Trust for Ornithology (BTO). This is not an app which plays recorded birdsong but it helped enthusiasts to track the seasonal movements of different species in conjunction with the BirdTrack website.