Low-Tech Bird Calls

Kissing and Spishing for Birds

I discovered the pleasures of bird-watching-the-easy-way long ago, when my big brother handed me a small, red wooden cylinder with a metal key at one end stamped "Audubon Bird Call." Chances are you've used one, too. Just twist the keyand, depending on how fast you turn it and how hard you push, the call makes an assortment of squeaks and chirps that attract various types of birds. These days, you can still buy a genuine Audubon Bird Call for about $5 innature stores and outdoor centers.

Or, you can just use your body to bring birds in for acloser look. Find a place among trees or bushes where leavesor branches will partially hide you. Get yourself comfortable (sitting is easiest) and try "kissing" forbirds.

Make a loose fist and hold it up to your mouth so thatyour thumb and curled-up index finger are facing you. Putyour lips together, press them to the fleshy part of your hand between your thumb and index finger, and make a loud, lip-smacking, squeaky kiss noise. Wait a few moments, then do it again, and again. Experiment. Try a series of short, high-pitched kisses. Or a combination of long and short, orloud and soft, squeaks. Notice which kinds of squeaks attract the most birds.

"Spishing" is even easier and often brings in morebirds. Just make a long, loud, drawn-out spish-h-h-h sound three or four times in a row. You've got it right if the call makes a shushing noise (as though you were saying shhhhhhh) but with an extra sp in front. Or try just pish-h-h-h. Do it repeatedly, in a steady rhythm — and don't be shy about it. Good, loud, energetic spishing or pishing can attract all sorts of woodland and backyard birds, including chickadees, nuthatches, jays, titmice, sparrows, catbirds, wrens, warblers, and even woodpeckers.

Ornithologists aren't sure why kissing and spishing (and the Audubon Bird Call) work. The sounds may simply provoke the birds' curiosity. The most widely held theory, though, is that the squeaks resemble alarm calls, which are known to trigger a behavior among birds called mobbing: When one bird sounds an alarm, others come flying to the "rescue," so to speak, and frequently add their own alarm calls to the general clamor — which in turn often brings in still more winged warriors. That's why you sometimes seesquadrons of small birds scolding and dive-bombing a cat orchasing a crow or hawk in the sky.

Kissing and spishing don't always attract birds by the flock, and you should avoid overusing the calls during nesting season and winter, when our feathered friends are already stressed. But for general all-around bringing-birds-in-for-a-better-look, remember that two of the best calls ofall are with you always, just a kiss and a spish away.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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