The Great Journey in Photography

Calling the Wild

Angry Osprey

300mm f7.1 250iso 1/640sec

I have always been in the camp that says that bird calls are not as effective as most people would like to think. For me it is a simple fact humans are almost never going to pull the wool over the eyes of any wild creature in their natural habitat. What I am saying is if you are thinking that you are sneaking up on a bird unnoticed you best think again. Birds are always aware of your presence, the trick is in making them comfortable with you being around. Along those same lines I came to the conclusion that birds are smart enough to decipher a fake call.

But times, they are a changing and in pursuit of any advantage it is time to visit the subject and ask the question of just how effective can a call be. First stop as usual is the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and as expected they don’t get into how to attract birds much but have loads of info about bird sounds and what the sounds mean.

Birds communicate for many reasons, including to

  • impress and attract a mate
  • declare territorial boundaries
  • identify family members
  • announce the presence of a predator
  • convey information about food

I find myself dangerously close to the other side, the darker side as it is, the side that watches and only watches birds, stepping out of the photography world I found a wonderful article by the National parks traveler. According to them it works like a charm but is really not a good practice. You are probably best off to read the whole article for yourself here. The practice of “playback” is akin to ” someone pounding on your door threatening to steal your wife and burn your house down“. A little extreme but the rationale is that birds find the call to be another that is invading its territory. Even if they believe it to be less than genuine, the threat is too big to ignore. It should be easy to imagine the stress this can cause the local wildlife. I am a tad bit smarter now but I guess nothing has changed and I think the only experimentation I will do with calls is in my own yard where the birds are essentially domesticated.

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