Sunday, August 18, 2013

Attracting birds by making noises

An important skill for birding in North America is the art of attracting birds in the field by making noises.  The best known of these is "spishing," but "squeeking" and imitating small owls (or playing recordings of owls) are also both common.


Sometimes called "swishing," is a noise made in the front of the mouth.  Imagine a librarian saying "ssshhhhh!" to quiet down noisy clients- this is the basic component of most spishing, except that a p or w sound is usually added near the front:  spsshhhhh, or swsssshhh.   And most of the time, the sound is made in a soft coaxing tone rather than a harsh scolding one.  About 1-2 phrases per second is typical.

Each birder has their own preferred variations.  Personally, I often deviate to a ch ch ch ch ch ch sound, or make a higher pitcher variation that is more like  sssss pssss pssss.  I also often start soft and coaxing and progress to a more loud and alarmed version.  But this is for each to experiment, and come up with their own recipe.


Generally done by curling the index finger, and kissing it on the crease thus created.   Loudly and sharply.  It works well with songbirds, but I find that spishing has a higher success rate.  It is better for attracting predators though, notably owls, and sometimes works on mammals (I once squeeked in a weasel in Maine). 

Owl Imitations

In our neck of the woods Eastern Screech Owl is usually the species used.  These days, many birders play   screech owl recordings from hand held electronic devices in the field.  Some whistle an imitation (a skill that takes practice- usually involving trembling through a small amount of spit stuck against the roof of the mouth with the tongue).  A simple tooting whistle at intervals of about a second is easier to produce vocally, and often works well (it is similar to some owls that do not occur here, but seems to be recognized by local songbirds anyway).  This is generally used for attracting songbirds, and in my experience is approximately equal in effectiveness to spishing.  A collateral benefit for using a screech owl call is that sometimes a screech owl will respond by calling back, especially in late summer and early fall, even in daylight.

More about this topic on my next post...


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