If you’ve spent any time in the field around passionate birders, you’ve undoubtedly heard them make a raspy sound that seems like they’re shushing. What the heck are they doing?

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Read on to learn more about the sound.

What is pishing?

Pishing is the term for that repetitive sound birders make to attract birds. Pishing is an onomatopoeic word because it resembles the actual sound (similar to buzz or chirp). In the field, it usually sounds like a pish pish pish.

This sound imitates a bird’s call, specifically a bird’s alarm call. So wouldn’t pishing repel birds because they think there’s a threat of danger? An alarm call actually attracts birds initially because they come closer to assess the level of danger.

Because pishing is a quick and easy way to attract birds, it’s a common method used by ornithologists conducting field studies or the leader of birding tours.

Here’s a good video that demonstrates how to pish with Pete Dunne:

Types of birds pishing attracts

While pishing attracts a wide range of species, some species respond more than others. Some studies have shown that pishing only attract passerines. Since more than half of all bird species fall into this order (such as vireos, orioles, shrikes, wrens, nuthatches, and many more), it can be very effective most of the time.

It’s particularly effective at attracting tits and chickadees because it closely matches their alarm calls.

Pishing controversy

An easy-to-make sound that attracts birds, including rare species? Sounds like something everyone should be using, right? Not exactly.

Birders have differing opinions on whether it’s ethical to use pishing in any context. Some argue that it’s unnatural and disruptive to birds and other birders; others say it’s a harmless way to get a better view of birds.

Pishing is generally fine as long as you adhere to a few basic rules.

First, you shouldn’t do it when there are rare birds in the area. This is not only in poor taste, but it can also disorient the rare bird. Second, you should avoid pishing when around other birders. Pishing around others will affect their birding experience, and some may even frown upon the practice. Finally, if you’re in a birding competition or conducting a survey, make sure pishing is acceptable before you do it.

There’s no right way to pish, so if you are going to do it, try out a few variations and see what works best for you.