Birdwatchers twitchy about ‘unethical’ and ‘dangerous’ use of iPhone apps



If you were to pick a hobby likely to generate confrontations and harsh words between participants, birdwatching probably wouldn’t spring immediately to mind. Yet the WSJ reports that the use of iPhone apps by birders is doing just that, as a new breed of birders use iPhone apps playing birdsong to persuade birds to come out of hiding.

An otherwise peaceful pastime has been roiled by conflict as digital field guides, and the song recordings they include, have made birding easily accessible for anyone with a smartphone and, sometimes, a portable speaker. In a hobby where reward has come from years of quietly, patiently waiting outdoors and diligently studying technical tomes, there is deep resentment of birders who are relying on these easy-to-use—or abuse—apps.

The American Birding Association is apparently considering “a major revision to its oft-cited Code of Birding Ethics to address smartphone use,” with the National Audubon Society also planning a “comprehensive policy” on the issue.

Some say it can get stressed if it thinks the playback is a territorial threat. A predator may even be lying in wait. The bird could also leave its habitat or stop responding to the calls, realities scientists say make them nervous.

“The I-gadgets are incredibly dangerous to people who know nothing about birds,” said avid birder Heidi Trudell.

I’m now expecting to hear tales of pitched battles with knitting needles between those who are for or against the use of iPads for knitting patterns …

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  1. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    “Some say it can get stressed if it thinks the playback is a territorial threat. A predator may even be lying in wait. The bird could also leave its habitat or stop responding to the calls, realities scientists say make them nervous.”

    Or, it does absolutely nothing at all except perhaps cause a bird to fly past one’s view. That is just a bunch of fantasized nonsense made up out of desperation.

    It’s a bunch of senior citizens that think standing in the cold with binoculars for 20 hours and seeing nothing is some sort of hobby. You’ll see nothing all day and like it! And you don’t need no silly i-gadget!

  2. Perry Donham - 9 years ago

    They hate me, too… I sell a CD (remember those?) called Feedersong that attracts birds to your backyard feeder. My customers have reported nothing but happy, well-fed birds for the past ten years. I have seen a few stressed-out squirrels, though…

  3. rettun1 - 9 years ago

    What about any kind of animal call then? Should those duck dynasty folk be put to death for making MILLIONS for their duck call thingy?

  4. Read my blog about apps here: – at the end, I state quite clearly that birders need to use discretion/caution when using bird calls… “Please consider the birds and other birders before playing audio recordings in the field.” This is to remind you that playing the recording of a bird’s call, especially in breeding season, may be harmful if done near the bird in question. And may be illegal in some National Parks. And is always illegal for endangered species. And it will annoy other birders.”
    And you used my picture for your blog…

  5. LeRoy Tabb - 9 years ago

    This is not about established birders not understanding and/or being resistant to new technology, or even about maintaining some sort of tradition–it’s about enjoying nature while minimizing our impact on the very thing we’re trying to enjoy.

    The article makes light of a complex issue and the quoted statement that birders resent others because they have “easy-to-use” options not previously available is inaccurate and misses the mark. Over the past few years birding has become one of the fastest growing pastimes. In my experience, birders love to see new people becoming interested and involved–and if there are tools available to make that happen more easily–so much the better.

    Ever since the first portable tape recorder, birders have been able to take recorded birdsongs into the field, so this is not new. What was found, however, is that playing recorded birdsongs in the field can attract birds but can also have negative consequences, so its use has always been highly (self) restricted.

    Birdsongs we hear in the Spring are mostly territorial. Male birds are attracted to the songs because they want to see who’s intruding into their territory and drive them off (with few exceptions, only males sing the “songs”). Knowing that, it’s easy to understand why having people constantly playing birdsongs can have a negative effect. Playing birdsongs could even serve to drive a bird away if it felt there was too much competition in a particular area. Other calls can warn of predators and can cause birds to alter their behavior, possibly affecting their nestlings.

    There are several more issues to consider, but the bottom line is that indiscriminant playing of birdsongs and calls is not a trivial problem that upsets only a bunch of old ladies.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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