Birdwatching: You know how to Whistle…don’t you?

July 10, 2006 by  
Filed under Birding Tips

Does whistling like a bird really attract birds? Or does it just make you look foolish? Does the bird understand when a facsimile is taking place? Does it think to itself how silly you look standing behind a bush quaking like a duck?

There are actually very few resources available for learning to whistle like a bird. Far easier to just learn how to whistle — period! Easier still, to find material — CD’s of pre-recorded birdsongs more often than not — that teach your bird how to whistle. But apparently for the birder – the passionate individual trekking through the woods with a pair of binoculars and a guidebook, learning to whistle and imitating your favorite bird is a skill you either have or you don’t.

In some higher circles of bird watching, the art of whistling is referred to mimicry. As if that changes anything. Mimicry is known to only a few. Rich Little is a darn good mimic, but his impersonation of Kirk Douglas will not attract a cardinal. (And his whistling ability sucks by the way).

For those who care, whistling can be traced to the 12th century just by Webster’s definition, but early man probably tried to mimic bird sounds as well. Their interest was in attracting dinner, not in attracting a bird to look and appreciate.

Back in the 1920’s, whistling achieved a certain amount of respectability. The late Agnes Woodward started a school for whistlers, which gained so much popularity that at one time her method was taught nationwide, mostly by voice teachers.

Getting back to birds however, in order to imitate a bird you need to be able to listen to the bird and fortunately there are many resources available that offer recorded bird songs. Listen and repeat. The same strategy used so successfully in learning to ride a bike just may work when learning how to whistle like a spotted wren.

Only you don’t fall down as much.

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