Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Talking to birds with the iPad

Today my animal behavior class headed down to Tryon Creek Natural Area to learn more about how different aspects of the environment can constrain animal communication.  Instead of taking my field guide, I brought along my iPad, loaded with the "Sibley eGuide to the Birds of North America".  This app provides a searchable catalog of regional birds, including excellent drawings, range maps, descriptions, and best of all, recordings of each species' vocalizations.

Thus armed, I quickly put it to use, calling up descriptions of the Song Sparrow and Spotted Towhee that we found just outside of Bodine Hall.  It was really easy to just type in the name of the bird and quickly have an image to show the students.  Even better, if you tap on an image, it is shown at higher magnification, which allowed everyone to see better than if they were looking at the smaller images in a field guide.  We followed this basic pattern of seeing a bird, finding it on the iPad, and sharing the image for 17 species of birds and I must say it was much faster and more effective than thumbing through a book.

So, this really worked well for helping with bird IDs... but it was even better as a device for broadcasting bird songs.  At one point, down in the bowels of Tryon Creek we stopped at an area where there was no evidence of any activity.  I told the students that this was the perfect kind of habitat for Pacific Wrens, but that they were very small and inconspicuous, and that we were unlikely to see one until the males start singing their territorial songs in a few more weeks. But then, as an experiment, I played the territorial alert call from my iPad.  Within seconds, a Pacific Wren popped up and started scolding us.  He then proceeded to move all around us, giving the students the best views of this species that I've seen in 14 years of teaching this class.  It was awesome!

About the only problem I had with the iPad was how to carry it.  It is too big to fit in a pocket, and in the field, I needs my hands free to use my binoculars, etc.  For today, I carried the iPad in a spare binoculars case slung over my shoulder, but this didn't feel very secure and I worried about it falling out.  Something to investigate between now and Thursday, when we make our next trip out. If anyone has any suggestions about slings or bags that might work, please let me know.

Winter Wren Photo


  1. Wow, that's pretty amazing. Who knew iPads could let you interact with nature in that way?

  2. It gives a whole new meaning to "Angry Birds" on the iPad!


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