To those in the know – AKA bird watchers – “pishing” is a universal term used to describe the various sounds one can make to entice smaller birds to come a lil’ bit closer.

The jury’s still out as to why this works, although there are quite a few theories:
  • The “pshh” sound closely resembles the scolding noise made by birds that are alerting others of a threat or predator.
  • It’s similar to a mother bird’s feeding call to her young.
  • It sounds like insects buzzing around, ready to be eaten.
  • Birds are innately curious and playful and attracted by sounds.

Regardless of the why, get your sounds right and suddenly you’re Dr. Doolittle in the woods, feeding chickadees from the palm of your hand…(not really) and if it fails, well then you’re just another weird, stranger making noises at the trees.

Our 1st time pishing went was not quite the flood of feathers I was expecting. At home, I had imagined it going more like Saint Francis of Assisi, whispering to my winged friends as they fluttered around me…but, uh..yea, it’s harder than it looks. It was another good time to remind myself that when dealing with nature, it’s best to check your preconceptions at the door (who’s the patron saint of low expectations?).

Not all birds respond to pishing and some are more responsive than others. Small birds such as chickadees, finches, nuthatches, sparrows, finches, titmice, jays, warblers, and wrens, are more reactive to these sorts of calls.

It comes down to the type/tempo/volume/combination/style in which you “pish” that makes the difference. Here are some tips that may help you find your inner bird:

  • Switch up sounds like “pishh” “pshh” “sip” “seep” and “chit-chit-chit” and see what works.
  • Draw out the “shhh” like you’re a very angry librarian.
  • Most noises are easily made with your teeth together and repeated about 3-5 times in a slow, regular tempo.
  • Switch up the tempo or mix two different sounds together.
  • Keep your volume conversational. Birds have great hearing and loud noises will scare them away.
  • Kissing the back of your hand in quick succession will give you a squeaky, chickadee-like sound.

After doing a bit more research, we were ready for another try. The fair weather conditions certainly helped and we successfully conjured a few, so I’d call that an improvement!

Like anything else that involves human and nature interaction, there is a point where the ethics need to be considered. Pishing and the use of taped bird calls are controversial and with good reason. We are drawing the birds away from their natural activities and disrupting their day-to-day flow. They could be nesting, caring for young, foraging, etc., and interrupting those daily activities could negatively impact their behavior and survival.

*Important*  Avoid pishing in sensitive areas like rare-bird sites and during breeding/nesting months. There are areas where this practice is prohibited because of the stress and disruption it induces. Always allow birds to return to normal activities after briefly viewing them. Practice respect and good judgment.

Bird-calling is a skill that takes practice to master. Maybe you’ll develop your own style over time and “pish” out the freshest Jays. Or maybe it’ll just be you and the trees, “pishing” in the wind.

Scroll through for more pictures of Legion Pond in Dalton & Canoe Meadows in Pittsfield.