Bird Watchers, Beware: Electronic Bird Calls May Harm the Creatures

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REUTERS/Jeremy Yancey/National Audubon Society

What if all the bird lovers out there clamoring to use their new technology were really driving birds mad? As new bird-calling technology, whether applications for your smartphone or recorded onto your iPod, lure birds to where you are for better viewing or photographing, they may also be messing with the brains of birds.

As reported by the Seattle Times, the bird calling sounds do cause stress for the birds, but most say it is short-lived, unless you hit play over and over and over again. And therein lies the rub: One researcher recounted birders playing the recorded calls on a loop at the side of the road. And now the idea of using recorded help to attract birds has become the first step in bird watching. Gone are the long hunts with binoculars or the patient waiting. There’s no need for all that with technology easily transported to the field—or backyard.

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As people flock to certain locales over and over, it is the same birds getting hit with the fake calls. But there’s no question the calls work. When males hear another male’s call, they perceive it as a threat—no matter where that song originates. While it may seem like no big deal to pull a bird out of hiding for a harmless photo, the bird exposes himself to predators, leaves his nest venerable and gets just plain stressed out, which has actually been backed up by scientific research. When stressed—just like some humans, apparently—the birds get aggressive and start to neglect their chicks.

Martyn Stewart, a wildlife-recording expert, says he’s seen a sharp-shinned hawk eliminate a woodpecker that was chasing an electronic call. And researchers say the play of these apps during mating season can actually create havoc on relationships. Seriously.

While some parks have banned the use, those in favor of using the apps say having birders barge through a natural environment may disrupt a bird’s life even more than a few electronic birdcalls. The new technology has also made it easier to chase birds, helping grow the popularity of birding, even if they do all go mad.

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