iPhones and White-breasted Nuthatches (Sitta carolinensis)

February 24, 2009

Last New Year's I began engaging in a birder's tradition of "Bird of the Year". Meaning, the first bird spotted of the new year becomes my theme bird for the rest of the 365 days. For the past four years, me, my husband Jay, and a couple of friends have headed up to a quiet farm cottage, surrounded by fields, forest, and ravines in the wilds of Wisconsin for New Year's Eve and day. Activities usually involve lounging/napping by a fire, sledding, hiking, petting Kirby the Miniature Donkey (and now a recently acquired pot-bellied pig we have named Pigvestigator - don't ask.), and eating absurd amounts of warm, homemade bread and farm fresh eggs.

This year, I was joined by my new iPhone. Now, I am no ludite. Yet, when our cellphone plan expired this summer, and Jay made a convincing argument as to why we should upgrade to iPhones, I was skeptical. Did I really need a gadget with which I could talk to my mom, text my friends, check email, watch Youtube, and use GPS, and all at once if I wanted ? Well...not really? I think I was worried that was too much access for me: too much access to email and the internet, and thus more distraction. I still kind of feel that way, but when I discovered that there was iPhone software for a Birds of North America field guide, iPhone and I became buddies. I downloaded the software, and geeked out over how each specie's page had an audio file of its vocalizations.

So while on a hike up at the cottage, I was at the bottom of a ravine, standing in 2 feet of snow, gazing up at the creaking, bare oak trees, when a White-breasted nuthatch flew off in the distance. I reached for my phone and looked up Sitta carolinensis in the guide to read up on a couple of details, and then hit the audio button to hear its call. Shortly thereafter I heard the nuthatch echoing the vocalization that was emitting from my iPhone. I hit the button again, and again the nuthatch answered repeatedly, all the while flitting closer and closer, until it was right above me. It creeped up and down the tree trunk, the branches, and stopped every now and then to size me up as I stood still. It was so close! I was entranced, but then felt a pang of guilt as I realized that I had unintentionally confused this little bird with some sort of false alarm, and interrupted important winter foraging. I put my phone away, and began my hike back up and out of the ravine. I am not sure that this was the very first bird that I saw in 2009, but definitely the first memorable encounter. So, happy 2009 little Sitta carolinensis.


  1. Ha. Now THAT is certainly all the justification you need for the iPhone.

    I had that same thought process when I was considering getting one because I knew that in the 20 minutes I spend on the bus going from my work computer to my home computer, I'd be checking my email...

  2. Sweet, upside-down Wisconsonian! A perfect addition to the La Farge menagerie.

  3. Very cool Diana. I just recently found out about National Geographic's Handheld Birds that is essentially the same thing for pocket PCs. Unfortunately it's $100 but it looks great!

    Lots of nuthatches around our house, mostly red-breasted. I love hearing their "meep-meep"s as they flutter among the firs.


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