The Smartphone Apps That May Be Killing Birds

The ubiquity of smartphones, and the plethora of available apps, has made reliable citizen science possible in backyards and city parks across the country. Just about anyone can snap a picture, make an audio recording, tag a GPS location and document any natural phenomenon or rare species with the tap of a finger. 

But now the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the U.K.'s leading ornithological conservation group, is warning that phone-savvy nature lovers are giving sensitive nesting birds some serious anxiety. 

RSPB and wildlife officials in the U.K. say that popular mobile phone apps that mimic bird songs are being used to lure birds out for better viewing and photography.

The problem is, the apps are a little too good and are disturbing and distracting birds that need to concentrate on guarding and feeding their nestlings. 

"A lot of these sort of apps were designed to help people identify birds song, and we encourage people to use them in that way," said Grahame Madge, a spokesperson for RSPB.

"But when birds hear their song played over and over again, they are likely to think it's a rival male encroaching on their territory and fly out to see what's going on. While that might make for a great photo, it also means that the nest is unprotected and vulnerable and the bird is stressed."

Madge also pointed out that under the U.K.'s Wildlife and Countryside Act it is against the law to intentionally disturb certain rare bird species. Maximum penalties for being caught doing so include a £5,000 fine and potentially six months in prison.

While Madge doubts that irresponsibly using a bird song app would land anyone in jail, it's a good reminder that nesting birds are serious business. 

One bird of particular concern is the Nightjar, a small ground nesting bird with long, pointed dark wings and soft mottled plumage that helps them blend in.

It's almost impossible to catch a good look at them, especially as they only come out at dusk to hunt moths.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, therefore, there have been numerous reports of photographers using song bird apps to get that coveted photo of this shy bird, whose numbers are only now just beginning to recover 

"We understand there is a huge desire amongst bird lovers to see these rare birds," said Madge. "But these birds are rare for a reason and so shouldn't be disturbed at the nest. Every nest lost could affect the population ultimately."

Have you ever used one of these apps? Let us know in the Comments.

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