How to Use Sounds for Attracting Birds

Water Bubbler

Bruce Fingerhood / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Birds may seem skittish around loud noises, but there are many different sounds that can attract birds rather than scare them away. While hunters are familiar with making bird calls to attract targets and birders in the field may use pishing to attract birds closer for a better look, backyard noises are quite different. Fortunately, it's easy to incorporate pleasant sounds into a yard or garden and invite even more birds to visit, while at the same time eliminating noises that might scare them away.

How Birds Hear

Hearing is one of a bird's most well-developed senses and is critical for survival. Not only can sounds alert birds to danger, but the sounds of prey can indicate a food source and splashes can lead birds to water. Many birds also communicate through a wide range of songs, calls, and even non-vocal sounds.

Birds have funnel-shaped ears, protected by short auricular feathers that concentrate sound to give them an exceptional sense of hearing. While birds don't necessarily hear a wider frequency range than humans, they are able to distinguish much finer variations in pitch, tone, and rhythm. This allows birds to use sounds in their environment much more effectively. Penguins, for example, can distinguish the exact calls of their own chicks, even in a flock of thousands. Owls can hear the scuffling of rodents even under a layer of insulating snow. Female passerines choose a mate based in part on the strength and complexity of his song, which indicates more experience and better health. But how can birders, with their less acute hearing, take advantage of different sounds to attract birds?

Best Sounds to Attract Birds

Birds are always interested in food, water, shelter, and nesting sites, and different sounds can alert them to available resources. The best types of sounds to attract birds include the following:

  • Water splashes: A series of splashes and bubbling, dripping, or gurgling noises will attract thirsty birds far more effectively than a stagnant, unmoving birdbath that may not be seen. The sounds of water splashing can be heard from great distances, and birds from a wide radius will investigate a noisy water source.
  • Insect buzzes: Even granivorous and frugivorous birds eat insects, and insects are a vital source of protein for most fledglings. The soft buzzes, rattles, and chirps of insects can be a homing beacon to hungry birds looking for a tasty meal.
  • Bird chatters: Most birds are naturally social and will investigate the company of other birds, especially similar species that enjoy the same food sources and habitats. The more birds there are in one area, the more noise they will make and the more additional birds they will attract with their songs and calls.
  • Pishing: In the field and in the backyard, pishing can be an effective way to attract curious birds. Pish while refilling bird feeders or cleaning a birdbath to let nearby birds know you're there and that they will soon have a treat to look forward to. You may be surprised at how close the birds will come when they recognize the sounds you make and learn to associate those sounds with rewards.

Sounds That Repel Birds

Not all sounds will attract birds, and some are much more likely to discourage birds from visiting. To enjoy both sounds and birds in your backyard, avoid these less friendly noises:

  • Loud volume: Any noise with an overwhelming volume will keep birds away. Even if it is a sound they recognize—such as a large, vigorous waterfall—birds will be nervous that the volume blocks more subtle sounds, such as a predator's approach or a mate's alarm call.
  • Predators: Sounds from predators will not only scare away birds, but will also teach them that your backyard is a dangerous place, and they will continue to avoid it. Minimize sounds such as cat meows and dog barks to help birds feel safe.
  • Music: Birds may sing beautifully, but they rarely appreciate human music. While a very soft, simple melody might attract birds—some of the tones may be close to noises they recognize—most music will have the opposite effect and should be avoided in the yard.
  • Humans: Your backyard birds can become accustomed to your voice and may not mind the sounds you make. Extended conversations, arguments, laughter, and other human noises are disconcerting to wild animals, however, and will discourage birds. Keep rowdy children indoors during peak bird feeding hours, and take other steps to minimize human noises in the yard.
  • Repeated unnatural noises: You might not notice some intrusive sounds in your yard, but the birds will. If a swing or gate is rusty and rasps or squeaks when it moves, or if a loose shutter or fence slat makes knocking noises, those sort of unnatural sounds could discourage birds.
  • Excessive recordings: Bird call or song recordings can easily attract birds, but proper ethics of bird calls discourages their continual use. Using one or two occasionally is not likely to have an adverse effect on your backyard birds, but overuse can stress birds. If birds hear many recorded calls, they may believe the territory is already claimed, so they will go elsewhere.

Using Sounds to Attract Birds

There are undoubtedly plenty of natural sounds in your backyard that will help attract birds, but if you want to add more encouragement, consider the following:

  • Add a dripper or bubbler to an existing birdbath, or add more than one.
  • Install a rain chain downspout under the gutters for beauty and sound.
  • Minimize insecticide use and cultivate flowerbeds as homes for noisy insects.
  • Install small wind chimes for gentle, intermittent tones to attract curious birds.
  • Keep bird feeders in quiet areas away from children's play areas or pet spaces.
  • Get started attracting birds in other ways to encourage a diverse and noisy flock.

Birds depend on sound, and backyard birders can depend on the right sounds to attract more birds to their feathered flock.

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