On Bird Calls and Pishing

This week a group of us were chatting about bird calls, and birding via sound vs. sight. I was reflecting later that most of the birding I do is auditory. Partly this is because I don't own good lenses, but also because I tend to do it wherever I am, and don't always have proper equipment with me. The reality of birds is that they are more readily heard than seen, so learning to identify them by sound is really useful.

Today, for example, I've heard all of the following birds, but only seen a few of them: Kingfisher, Grackle, Chipping Sparrow, Northern Oriole, Osprey, Barn Swallow, Red Winged Blackbird, Eastern Kingbird, Pileated Woodpecker and half-a-dozen other common birds like Canadian Geese, Mallards, etc.

Birds are of the air: a fleeting stroke of colour across the sky; the unseen source of a song that reaches you on the wind. Rarely will you get to hold a living bird. To experience them, you have to learn to see, and more importantly, to hear them.

My favourite bird is the Great Horned Owl. I've seen it a dozen times, and almost every time it's been due to sound vs. sight. Sometimes it's the Crows and Jays that find it for me. You'll be out for a walk, and you'll hear Crows going crazy deeper into the woods: go in and look for the owl that they are surely berating. Or listen for this screeching sound, which isn't what you'd expect an owl to sound like, but is the more common way I've heard them.

But the real reason I wanted to write this is to teach you a magic trick. Birds listen as much as they sing, and you can use this fact to call them to you. Being able to conjure birds out of the forest is an amazing superpower every parent should have. The next time you're on a walk and hearing birds around you, try pishing. It's as simple as making a "psssh, psssh, psssh" sound. You're going to feel like an idiot the first time you do it, but trust me that it works. You can call all kinds of birds to within feet of where you stand. It's especially effective in dense cover, like on a forest walk.

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