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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Birding...with an iPod?

Air Date: Week of

Noah Strycker (Photo: Bob Keefer)

Birder Noah Strycker says modern techonology can be used - with care - to assist birders in the field.


GELLERMAN: Ok birders, this bud’s for you. White ear buds that is. You know those tell-tale signs of musical isolation that cut people off from the rest of the world? Well, what if the iPod could instead connect you with the great outdoors? Enter commentator Noah Strycker who has repurposed the iPod for i-birding.

STRYCKER: The little gizmo more than proved its worth one spring morning in an impressive demonstration in a patch of Ponderosa Pine forest. I was on a mission for a sighting and after I decided which songbird I wanted to see.


I dialed up the pre-programmed call on my iPod, broadcast the song through an external speaker, and—bada bing!—there it was, a male Chipping Sparrow, hormones pumping, singing madly from the branch in front of me. Like magic. Dial-A-Bird.

Noah Strycker dials up his ipod in the field. (Photo: Bob Keefer)

In truth, iBirding is far from magic. You have to know exactly where the birds are and when they’ll be there. Knowledge of vocalizations helps immensely, as you should be able to differentiate between an actual warbler song and a recording broadcast by the guy across the way with his own iPod. Occasionally, though, luck is all it takes.

On another occasion, it was near midnight, and I was standing alone in the inky blackness of an Oregon night. A creepy silence blanketed the scene. I had a tip that Barred Owls were in the area, and I wanted to see one. In the past ten minutes, however, nothing had stirred. It was time for Plan “B”.

I dialed up “Barred Owl” on my trusty iPod and played the recording, a raucous Whoo-Cooks-For-You-All, twice.


The barred owl. (Photo: Noah Strycker)

The silence intensified, suddenly, a loud swoosh sliced the air above my head and I aimed my light to find the owl sitting not five feet from my hat, staring down with somber, watery black eyes. I was out of there in a snap and home to bed before it could blink!

As a tool for modern birders, the iPod is both handy and reasonably inexpensive. It goes with your state-of-the-art binoculars, spotting scope, digital camera, long camera lenses, cellphone with pre-programmed Rare Bird Alert numbers, tuna sandwiches, and B-R-D, B-O-Y license plates. You can get everything but the plates—sorry, those are mine!

Don’t expect an iPod to make you an elite birder. It can’t replace actual knowledge and experience, and it takes a fair amount of time to set up. On outings, I follow common sense with my iPod, trying to be considerate and unobtrusive of birds’ activities, especially in heavily birded areas, and never using playbacks for attracting any species that is threatened, endangered, or of special concern.

Noah Strycker (Photo: Bob Keefer)

As a birding tool, the iPod can be a great way to reach out to the world around us. And that’s cool not just for the iPod Generation, but for any generation.

[MUSIC: Music: Bunnyhug “Destruction” from ‘Momentos Perdidos (Lost Moments)’ (Elefant Records – 2004)]

GELLERMAN: Noah Strycker is the Associate Editor of Birding magazine, and was named Young Birder of the Year in 2004 by the American Birding Association. His work is featured in the new book Good Birders Don't Wear White: 50 Tips from North America’s Top Birders.



Noah Strycker's website


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