A new app which encourages people to give a digital salute to magpies such as this one, photographed by Colin Scott

Say hi to a magpie via new app

A new app which encourages people to say “good morning Mr Magpie” via their mobile phone will help scientists evaluate the benefits which birds bring to the quality of human life.

Whether you view them with sorrow or joy, using your smart device to help build up a national database of sightings of the distinctive black-and-white birds will feed into wider research by the University of Exeter to assess how much value people place on having birds in their gardens.

Dr Richard Inger, at the Environment and Sustainability Institute on the University’s Cornwall Campus, said: “We chose to study magpies because they’re one of the most common garden birds in the UK and are easily recognisable. Many people already acknowledge them for luck, and we’re asking them to go one small step further and log sightings on their mobile phones. Magpies are not everyone’s favourite birds, but by getting involved you can help us to gather crucial data which will help us establish how much time the birds spend in different habitats.

“The success of this project is totally reliant on as many people as possible taking up the challenge to salute a magpie digitally. We want to extend it beyond established birdwatchers. We’d love to see children recruited to counting the magpies in their gardens and families recording the information together.”

The app will use GPS satellite technology to record the location and distribution of magpies throughout the UK. It will feed into a wider study to evaluate the contribution of urban birds to a human sense of wellbeing.  

Tony Whitehead, speaking for the RSPB in the South West, said: “Birds are both hugely popular and one of the few wild animals we encounter on a daily basis. For those that enjoy their company they undoubtedly engender a real sense of wellbeing. To quantify the benefits birds bring to people’s quality of life  is no mean feat, but we welcome the  University’s work in this area, and in the development of an app that will help engage the public in gathering data on particular species."

Magpie Mapper is available on the App store, and can be downloaded to Android and Apple devices. To find out more, visit www.magpiemapper.co.uk

Date: 20 November 2012