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Selfish misuse of mobile app causing harm to birds

Misusing birdsong apps can be harmful to rare and sensitive species of birds

Misusing birdsong apps can be harmful to rare and sensitive species of birds


Nitish Bissonauth
Staff Writer

Friday, June 14, 2013, 7:38 -

A mobile app that mimics birdsongs has received negative attention from experts after being deemed 'harmful' to rare and sensitive species of birds. 

The app, which is aimed for educational purposes, is intended to help learn and identify birdsongs and calls. Instead, birdwatchers are misusing the app to attract birds in order to capture that perfect picture.

As a result, the birds are getting distracted and interrupted when performing important tasks such as feeding or matting, with some even relocating their nests. This has enraged quite a few people, including Tony Whitehead from RSPB (The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) and as well the Dorset Wildlife Trust. 

"It is selfish and shows no respect to the birds. People should never use playback to attract a species during its breeding season,” Whitehead said in a recent interview with the BBC. After several incidents on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, England, the Dorset Wildlife Trust is launching an online campaign to raise awareness as they hope to put a stop to this. In addition, the trust has advised photographers not to use bird apps on any of its 42 reserves and signs have been put up on Brownsea Island to remind visitors.

The island, which has a special protected area, provides habitats and refuge for rare birds such as the nightjar, which, like all nesting birds, is protected by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981. 

According to the act, it’s an offence to intentionally disturb any nesting bird. Dr. Hilary Wilson, who oversees the Chirp! app for iSpiny, also spoke to the BBC and mentioned that while it's designed for educational purposes, it can be used to entice birds and encourage them to respond. 

"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," Dr. Wilson said. While lowering the volume seems like a plausible solution, others, such as Whitehead remain adamant that birdsong apps should not be used at all.

“We need to spread the word that the use of these apps is not suitable for nature reserves and can be potentially harmful to sensitive species." Whitehead concluded.

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