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© Lora Denis
I was skeptical when a birding friend said he could call birds in from the forest. “What are you talking about?” I told him. Birds are shy. If there is one thing I know, they don’t come when they’re called.
With a smile on his face and a glint his eye, he said “I’ll show you.”
We stood under the canopy of oaks and maples, when he tilted his head upwards and let go with the strangest of sounds. By pursing his lips, he uttered a stream of loud “pssshhhing” noises. He repeated each phrase a few times a second (pish, pish, pish), emphasizing the P and the “ish” parts. I looked at him quizzically. Then he began to kiss the backs of his two fingers. What the heck? Then he told me to stand still. So I did.
It was then that the birds began to arrive. First Black- Capped Chickadees fitted in, soon followed by White and Red Breasted Nuthatches. There were warblers, woodpeckers and even other birds swooped by to check us out. By the time a few minutes passed, we had over sixty birds near us. Some of the chickadees were only a few feet away! How did my friend do this?
He used the secret weapon known to birders as “pishing.”
It works especially well with small songbirds. Pishing simply involves taking a deep breath and quickly repeating the sound “pssh” as you let the air out in one, drawn-out exhale. At first, you’ll probably have to pish fairly loudly – but you can lower the volume once the bird or birds get closer.
Continue pishing for at least a couple of minutes to give all of the different species that may be present a chance to make their way towards you. You can also kiss the back of your hand or fingers, creating squealing noises. Chickadees and nuthatches are especially receptive to both of these sounds, but other species will almost always show up as well, especially if you are patient.
Don’t be surprised if you end up with birds practically at arm’s reach. It is believed that birds respond to pishing because it sounds similar to the scold calls of chickadees. Scold calls are used when there is a potential threat in the area such as an owl. Other chickadees, along with birds of other species, are attracted by these sounds because they are curious about the nature of the potential threat.
In all seasons and especially during the fall, you can pish birds in. Practice becoming a bird whisperer and who knows what birds may be conjured up by your pursed lips and your strange sounds! Try it and see.
I find this confusing…why would ANY animal come TOWARDS a threat type signal ( unless perhaps it from a baby to a Mom who had wandered out of sight?!)
I’ve also read that we should NOT, for example, play audio recordings in order to ATTRACT specific birds, (and any territorial critter!) because it would likely be interpreted as “Someone’s ALREADY HERE, dude……so KEEP moving”. Otherwise we might displace locals.
And, YES, Mother Nature and Darwin already intervene regularly.
Don’t misunderstand, its GREAT to see nature up close, and it sounds like what we do occasionally, to call chipmonks for peanuts.
But I DO find it all rather confusing, contradictory, counterintuitive, especially if the ONE “pisssh” call attracts SO MANY different species.
Jacob, thank you for writing about pishing. I have witnessed this phenomena on guided hikes at Singing Sands, psrt of Bruce Peninsula National Park. It is magic when birds appear from no where attracted by the sound of a possible mate.
Very interesting information