There are many
subtle techniques that can make you a better birder. Neither
difficult nor tricky, these techniques are valuable field methods
gleaned from years of experience.
LISTEN for birds at all times.
This is similar to learning a foreign language; the more your
ears hear the sounds, the easier it is to understand them.
Listen even when driving which obviously requires at least one
window down, preferably the driver's window. This can be
a bit uncomfortable for passengers in the back seat, but you
will soon be able to ignore their whining and hear only birds
listen; even while you are talking to someone. Practice
long pauses between words and sentences. This enables you
to sample bird songs and monitor the bird population around you.
This technique should be done with caution, however, if you have
a short train of thought.
LOOK constantly for birds
no matter where you are and what you are doing. Veteran
birders rarely spend a waking moment when they are not aware
of which birds are around. Better birders are always glancing
around. They are often considered rude conversationalists
as they are constantly scanning the sky, tree canopy, branches,
power lines, etc. for birds. They avoid eye contact with
you in order to increase their valuable birding time.
WATCH for signs of birds.
Blue jay and crow mobbings alert you to a hidden hawk in the
top of a tree. Scolding chickadees and titmice often lead
you to a secretive owl. These rousing commotions may also
lead you to a snake (which is invariably close to you than it
is to the birds).
for flocks of birds. Never assume that a huge group of
red-winged blackbirds is 100% pure. Mixed in, hidden in
the crowd, could very well be something unusual such as a rusty
or Brewer's blackbird. The difference between a birder and a
better birder is that the latter is always ready and looking
for something different.
HELP yourself. Learn
good field techniques such as making birds come to you.
Approaching birds usually makes them withdraw deeper into the
thickets. Pull them out to you by pishing or squeaking.
Neither of these noises can be actually taught; they must be
learned by trail and error, preferably when you are alone to
avoid beginner's embarrassment. Pishing is done by placing
your tongue against your front teeth and hissing while opening
and closing your lips frequently. You can vary pishing
by adding more saliva to it or making your lips tight.
Squeaking is sucking air through the backs of two fingers or
your fist. It is thought that good kissers make good pishers
and squeakers, but current research suggests that it may be the
other way around.
technique to attract birds is an owl call. The call of
a screech owl, for instance, will alert other little birds who
will make their presence known by mobbing you. Owl calling
works very well even when pishing and squeaking don't, but there
are a few disadvantages to it. Done repeatedly in the same
area, resident birds may habituate to a screech owl calling,
making the technique less effective. It may also discourage
real screech owls from staying around. And finally, frequent
owl calling may irritate other birders who are trying to listen
to soft call notes and chips.
technique is the use of a tape or CD. There is a fine assortment
of pre-recorded bird call and songs for nearly every country
and birding hotspot in the world. Most useful in the spring
and summer, tapes can pull birds out of the centers of swamps,
tangles of thickets or middle of meadows. Taped songs work
so well that a defensive bird on territory can be enticed to
sit on the offensive tape player and search for the intruding
male bird. Unfortunately, for the territorial bird, this
takes time and energy away from his more important chores.
Tape playing is usually discouraged by better birders unless
there is a bird out there that you simply can't live without
BIRD OFTEN. Birding is
one of those things where the reward is dependent upon your effort.
You can learn to bird while sitting in your lounge chair and
reading field guides or bird behavior books, but only by getting
out frequently can you sharpen your ears and eyes. Visiting
various habitats during different times of the year increases
your chances of seeing more birds and truly understanding them.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with going out by yourself.
Seeing a new bird and finding it in your favorite field guide
allows for the personal satisfaction of actually being able to
find and identify a bird. The positive reinforcement of
finding the bird yourself far surpasses having someone always
telling you what it is. Your self esteem will soar
AND LASTLY, every better birder
technique that you have practiced will be worthless if you slam
the car door. On the other hand, don't leave the door open
with the alarm buzzing either.
have fun and good better birding.
Ornithologist, President Birding Adventures, Inc.