What is pishing?
Why does it work?
What does pishing sound (look) like?
Are there other ways to get birds to come out?
What is pishing?
Pishing refers to a group of noises that birders make
in the hope of attracting birds;
some noises work better than others. Time of day, time of year, weather, ambient noise,
crowds and even too much pishing can affect the success of the procedure. But anyone
who has had one of those marvelous days when flocks of birds are up and out responding
to these noises knows how exhilerating it can be. I have divided out what I would call true
pishing (various silibant noises made by forming "s" or "sh" sounds with the tongue) from
other useful noises like owl hoot and clicking sounds. They are described in more detail
Why does it work?
You know, I have 6 books on birdwatching (birding) and
only one mentions pishing
(Zimmer,K. 1985. The Western Bird Watcher. Phalarope Books). I've heard plenty of
theories; the most reasonable of which is that pishing throws out an array of frequencies
taken to be alarm calls. These alarm calls are recognized mostly by Passerines, but I
have had Northern Harriers, Wood Ducks, rails, hummingbirds, woodpeckers, squirrels,
domestic (ferral) cats, coyotes and possibly Pacific Tree Frog respond.
One might ask why an animal (particularly a prey species)
would come to the scene
of an alarm. Again, there are plenty of theories. Ganging up on a predator is a common
occurence, especially among birds. Cooperative mobbing may be a way of distracting
a predator or at least reducing the predators ability to successfully score by announcing
And from Joel Weintraub via BIRDCHAT
Date: Tue Dec 2 02:24:07 1997 From: JWeintraub@Fullerton.edu (Joel Weintraub) Subject: 1969 Pishing Article To: BIRDCHAT@LISTSERV.ARIZONA.EDU Reply-To: JWeintraub@Fullerton.edu For the thread: Emlen, J.T. 1969. The 'squeak lure' and predator mobbing in wild birds. Anim. Behav. 17:515-516. The author cites Chapman 1912 Handbook of Birds of Eastern North America as an early source for the activity. He defines it as "the squaking sound produced with the lips against the hand"... and indicates it "elicits approach responses in a wide variety of wild birds and has been used extensively by field ornithologists as a lure." Emlen indicates no critical studies of pishing had been done. He found that pishing along established survey routes elicited less bird approaches than areas not visited... and argues that birds habituate to the sound. He did an experiment where birds along a route that were routinely pished at showed less responses (in the Bahamas and in Florida) than new routes. He cites Chapman as proposing that the sounds mimic calls of a bird in distress, "luring other birds to the scene of excitement. Observations at scenes of actual predation, where squeaking and other cries are given by an avian victim, indicate that 'mobbing' of the predator by responding birds often occurs." Emlen suggests his results are due "to the habituation of exploratory behaviour in the absence of reinforcement, and that the reinforcement necessary to maintain this exploratory behaviour lies in feedback from some aspect of direct exposure to a predaor-prey interaction absent in the squeak-lure model." Joel Weintraub-Biology, Calif. State Univ., Fullerton JWeintraub@Fullerton.eduWhat does pishing look like?
I've been birding for 27 years and have developed what
I think are reliable noises that
seem to attract birds. They are as follows:
|I like to use the loud pish to get things started
especially in a quiet kack. Once I get the Fox
and Song Sparrows started, I move on to a
quieter alternation of the next two pishes plus
|Sparrows and finches respond best to my
|This works well for kinglets, warblers and
There are lots of noises that birders make to attract
birds that would not (technically)
be called pishing these include kissy noises, tongue kicking and owl impressions.
||These are made by either kissing the air or
the back of the hand. They throws out the same
array of frequencies that the high pish does
and I feel more confortable with the high pish.
Guaranteed to bring in Barn Owls if they're
||The tongue click will sometimes work for
sparrows and will also get answers from
Virginia Rail (possibly others though I don't
live in Clapper Country).
|Obviously this will attract Pygmy or Saw-
whet Owl (sometimes Western Screech,
especially kennicotti), works well for Parids,
kinglets, warblers, thrushs and most sparrows.
|I like to throw in a (kind of) generic small owl
when I'm working a brushy edge habitat. I
pretend like it's Screech Owl, but owls are never
Comments? Send them to Mike Patterson