Gone Pishin’ — A Few Well-Placed Annoying Sounds Brings in the Birds

By Kimberly Mason
For The Chronicle

Two weeks ago I happened across a blog post that talked about “pishing” for birds (www.surfbirds.com/blog/northcoastdiaries/17948/).
Pishing is defined as “a group of noises birders make in the hopes of attracting birds.” The blogger declared that many of his amazing photos were taken when he pished for birds, calling them in closer with the racket he was making.

While common at many feeders in the area, this purple finch isn’t a frequent visitor in my backyard. I sat and waited patiently for him to turn his head so I could get a good shot of his profile. Finally, I “pished,” he and his mate both turned to look.

According to the blog post:

“Every birder will have a different opinion on how to pish, where to pish, when to pish. Techniques vary. Pishing doesn’t work every single time I work a likely birding spot. Some birders are better at it, some will tell you it never works. It didn’t work at all for me in East Africa or Costa Rica. I seem to have less luck when I’m with a big mob of birders than when I’m by myself or with just one or two others. I’ve found that having someone pish while I simultaneously do a Pygmy Owl toot is more effective than a pish or a toot by itself.”

A quick Google to find the sound file for a Pygmy Owl and I was headed out the door with my camera in hand. It was a beautiful sunny day, I was going pishing.
I have a quarter mile walk to the nearest woods, I used that time to practice my pish. Having done that, I wouldn’t recommend practicing; it’ll tire out your lips too quickly. Then you’ll be too pooped to pish.
I hit the woods and started pishing. I used various “sh,” “tzit tzit” and threw in a few high-pitched “hoot hoots” for good measure.
Just then my daughter called my cell phone to see what I was up to. I told her I was out pishing.
“You’re whaaaat?”
“Pishing. P-i-s-h-i-n-g,” I said, enjoying the confusion I created in her mind.
I could hear the keyboard keys clacking as she entered the word into Google — that girl’s the queen of research.
“Mom, you mean you’re standing in the middle of the woods kissing the back of your hand?” she asked, disbelieving.
“No, but that’s a great idea,” I said, “I’ll try it that way.”
Twenty minutes into pishing I had targeted a red-breasted sapsucker and a varied thrush with my camera lens. As I continued to pish and cause a racket, I called in a song sparrow that I’m pretty sure was telling me I really should just shut up because I was annoying the heck out of her — which is exactly what my border collie did when I practicing pishing at home — apparently “pishing” calls in the curious and the annoyed.
I had all but forgotten about pishing until today, when I was sitting on my front porch waiting for a purple finch and his mate to show up.
They had been hanging around off and on all weekend and I hadn’t positively identified them as purple finches; the more common house finch is a regular diner at my feeders, but I hadn’t seen a purple finch here in years.
The targeted pair finally landed in my rhodie, perched on the other side of the bush with their backs to my camera lens.

As I continued to pish, a black-capped chickadee came to see what the fuss was all about and I had two new sightings for the day. (Kimberly Mason / For The Chronicle)

After several minutes of patient waiting, hoping they would turn their heads so I could get a good shot, I remembered to pish.
The “click, click click” of the camera hadn’t moved them, but a few brief “spish, pish, spishes” and the male purple finch stretched his neck and turned curiously around to see what was causing all the fuss.
Next thing I know a little ball of feathers was seen flitting to and fro, “tzit, tzit, tzit” he called. A tiny black-capped chickadee — never before seen at my feeding station — was zipping around from branch to branch, his head tilting from side to side, coming to see what was making the annoying racket.
Write me and let me know if you try pishing. Or perhaps you are already a pisher, tell me what works best for you and where you like to do it. Let’s compare pishing notes.
Kimberly Mason is a freelance writer who enjoys watching and photographing the wildlife in action in her own backyard in Cinebar. Contact her via e-mail at kz@tds.net.

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