- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2002

Get that, please … it's the rough-legged buzzard.
Here's a case of a true bird call, and happy news for anyone vexed by the jangle of cell phones at inopportune moments. Now the phones can coo, twitter, trill, chirp and warble, thanks to an odd pairing of electronic giant and birding group.
The London-based Royal Society for the Preservation of Birds has joined with Nokia to produce 38 "Bird Song ringtones" that cause the phone to ring in the manner of the pied wagtail, lesser whitethroat, red-breasted flycatcher, spotted crake and black-tailed godwit, among others.
"Oh, what could be better? What could be more pleasant?" asked Carol Page of Cell Manners, a Massachusetts-based group dedicated to promoting "cell phone civility" through a Web site (www.cellmanners.com) and a newsletter.
"Having a bird song go off rather than an annoying ring or some bad song is less likely to startle people, less rude," she said. "The only better thing would be to have a cell phone which rang like a human cough. Then nobody would hear it."
The new ringtones are now available online (www.rspb.org) and meant to "kick life into your mobile phone." About 20 percent of each sale will be donated to the birding society.
The Audobon Society offered no opinion on the idea, though spokesman Robert Bianchi was quick to point out that the number of bird-watchers in the United States has risen from 19 million in 1982 to 71 million this year.
"No doubt people appreciate the sound of birdcalls," he noted.
The birds, however, may get confused.
Danish, Australian and New York ornithologists have reported that city birds are now imitating the sounds of cell phone rings. Starlings, mockingbirds, brown thrashers, lyrebirds and catbirds are among our feathered friends who have taken to mewling like a Motorola on occasion.
Birds "now face the prospect of impersonating themselves," the London Daily Telegraph observed. The newspaper called the phenomenon "a nightingale rings in Berkeley Square."
A small group of carrier pigeons in the Orissa area of India may take issue with the new phone tones as well. The Indo-Asian News Service reports that two-thirds of the 600-bird force of the flying messengers are out of service now that people use cell phones and e-mail.
The pigeons, descendants of a flock brought to India from Belgium in 1946 to carry messages to flooded areas, are now under the care of a state wildlife service.
In the meantime, cell-phone culture continues to burgeon. "Cell-phone rage" the profound annoyance others feel when the phones intrude upon their reveries is now being replaced by "cell-phone envy," say researchers at the Yankee Group.
The firm has actually documented "digital depression" among consumers who cannot afford to match the newfangled communications devices of well-heeled friends.
Continental Research in Britain, meanwhile, has found that cell phones themselves lead a "tough life." A survey released last week found that 600,000 Brits had accidentally dropped their phones in the toilet, another 400,000 had dropped them into a drink by mistake and still another 200,000 had sent their phones through the washing machine.
"These figures are quite shocking," said survey director Colin Shaddick, who also found that close to 3 million people had either lost their cell phones or had them stolen last year.
On a happier note, a Swedish electronics developer is perfecting technology which will change a cell phone's ringtone depending on the caller's mood. Using an "emotion indicator" on their own handsets, the caller can key in a joyous, angry or sad-sounding ring, just as a warning to those who will pick up the call.
Last but not least, the British-based Touch recording company released an entire compact disc of cell-phone ringtones this week that includes animal-call tones based on the recordings of explorer Sir David Attenborough. Producers say the tones can be downloaded into some phones, and are not subject to the copyright-infringement issues of many popular musical ringtones.
"We assume you already agree that the 'cheep cheep' tones of Nokia, Ericsson and the others leave a lot to be desired," advise the liner notes.


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