Communicating With Wild Birds - Part 1:
by Gitie House
Wild birds love communicating, but tend to fly off in a flurry at the first approach if they aren't used to humans, or don't know you, or are feeling shy. A little perseverance and some techniques can easily help foster a rich and rewarding friendship with our avian neighbours. Nowadays some birds let us gently urge them to come out of hiding and pose, such as the koels, and still others calls us out and introduce themselves, like the scaly-breasted lorikeets, galahs and the rosellas. Once the birds got used to us talking to them, we found that they changed their attitude. Even after being away for months from the yard, they suddenly drop by, call us out, happily sit in the open, enjoy the attention of the camera and keenly socialise with some of the other species.
Engaging a new bird's interest takes a bit of time in the beginning. With practice one can win them over and develop a two-way friendship. Other birds watch this developing social interaction with interest from a distance and, seeing the special relationship between you and other feathered friends, sooner or later, one by one, they, too, start to venture forward to forge their own friendship with you. The main steps involved in getting acquainted are:
- Talking in a way that makes the bird feel comfortable
- Listening to the bird's message
- Understanding the bird's actions
- Responding in a way that builds trust
- Making time for new friends
Sweet Talking A Bird
There are several ways to attract a bird's attention. You can call out to them gently and talk to them when putting out the water and food. Or you can talk to them while they are eating and drinking. Or you can just talk to a bird directly. If this is your first time, and the bird is not used to talking humans, the bird may retreat in shyness, fly off, or pretend to have not heard you. Do not feel discouraged or dissuaded by any of this. Just wait for the next opportunity and try again. As the bird becomes familiar with the sound of your voice, recognises your body language, gains confidence that you are not a threat, they will begin to relax and interact more positively. Remember that your conversation is a new development for them and they have to figure out how best to respond to your initiative.
What can you talk about to a wild bird, you ask. Well, you can talk to them about the weather. For instance, do they like the sunshine, or the rain? How did they cope with the storm? Hope they are not too hot and dry or cold and wet. Whatever is happening around you, is affecting their lives too. You will be surprised as to how much they do understand. In the beginning they will not know your words, but regardless, they will follow the tone and they will begin to recognise care, concern, and interest. Wait for a reply for a short while, even if you don't get one, before returning indoors or changing your activity. What that does is signal to the birds that you are looking for a response from them.
Talk softly and gently so as not to scare the bird. Modulate your voice and try to speak with a slight lilt. Birds translate our words into the closest sounds in their own language and the languages of other birds. In their minds they try to repeat the sounds, even those who are not good at mimicking other creatures. Do not blindly imitate their sounds directly. Our aim is to communicate with the bird meaningfully, not to send them wrong messages or to trick them in any way. Some of the sweetest sounds they make may mean something entirely different in their language. For example, I noticed even with Maggie and his family that some of their disputes, and their sounds for territorial boundaries sounded very sweet. If I repeated these sounds when talking to any of them, I would be telling them to keep away! Quite the reverse of what I wanted. It's best to talk from your heart in your own language, and let the birds learn to intuitively understand your intentions from the sound of your voice and to feel the warmth of the love you radiate.
Talk to them even when you think they are not listening. Birds have the advantage of being able to keep an eye on the going-ons over vast areas from their perches on tree tops, roofs, lamp posts and the like and being ever alert they are always on the watch for what others in their neighbourhood are doing. The bird community is also very interactive, they follow each other's dialect and will spread the message.
The rainbow lorikeets in 'Surprise Guests Drop In For A Spot of Lunch', for instance, were not always that bold. The first time they visited our yard was in early spring last year. A soft rustle from behind made me turn my head for another look at the mulberry tree. In the early spring the tree looks very attractive, speckled with black ripe berries and red new berries against the bright green leaves. I heard a soft movement and suspected there was a bird hiding in its depths checking out the fruit. But I couldn't see him at all. 'Hello', I said softly, 'I can't see you. Where are you? Are you enjoying the fruit?'. I heard no sound or movement. I waited a few seconds before continuing, 'Will you come out and say hello to me?', 'Thank you for coming, I would really like to see you. Will you let me take a photo?'. The silence from the other side was broken by some more rustling, and a head popped out briefly. It was a lorikeet. I said, 'Thank you for showing your self. I love you. Can I get the camera? Please stay for me.' When the bird stayed for a while and had become accustomed to me, I went in, got the camera, focussed the lens and continued requesting the bird to come out as sweetly and gently as I could. To my amazement, the bird did come out and let me take a shot before disappearing into the leaves again. I asked the bird to come out again and the bird obliged me once more, this time showing me that it was a rainbow lorikeet. Then I realised that these were the same birds that we had spotted on a tree along the road on one of our walks, and we had talked to them and thanked them. And they had been watching us for months talking to the magpies and were delighted when we showed an interest in them. It gave them the courage to overcome their shyness and come to see us instead.
In the next part, we will look at the Art of Listening to the Birds, in more detail as there in lies the secret of transformation. For the previous parts click on the links below:
You can send your questions on any of these steps to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to answer them.