Communicating With Wild Birds - Part 2
by Gitie House
Communicating successfully with someone from a different species, who is not only not dependent on you, but also flies off in a flash if they don't like the sound of your voice, brings its own suite of challenges. In this series, we look at each of the five major aspects of communicating with wild birds. These involve making them familiar with our speech patterns, listening to learn, understanding our bird's response, building trust, and allowing the friendship to develop. In the previous issue we covered the importance of making the wild birds feel comfortable in your presence, showing them that you care about their welfare and wish to make friends.
In this article we look at the art of listening to the birds. Listening is much more than just enjoying their songs. True listening requires us to understand the information they are trying to convey in their language to their family, community, intruders and also their friends which now hopefully includes you.
Listen With Your Eyes
Listening is by far the greater step to knowing. What are the birds saying? Every species has its own language and can chatter for ages. The other bird species seem to know what's going on and know which calls to ignore and which ones to takes seriously. How can we join the conversation?
Birds use 'show and tell' as part of their language, and action is one of their primary modes for exchanging information. Birds often use soft sounds like 'bb..bb..bs', 'ch..ch..ch..', mmmm', which can be almost inaudible to us, and just the way we use gestures, much of their communication is also non-verbal. To know them better, we need to increase our awareness of their priorities, their motivations, their rules and also their individual personalities, roles and responsibilities.
In order to understand what the bird is trying to tell you, one has to learn to connect their actions with their sounds. We have to listen with our eyes - which just means watching what the bird is doing and looking around to see what is happening, when they are talking.
Learn to recognise their sounds. Which sound is a call to the others that they have found food, or to inform others that the water is fresh? Which sound is a warning for a hawk? The alarm for an eagle that might attack them is different to that of snake or a goanna, and how do they protest to a bigger bird who is pushing them out of the way? Each species will have their own sounds. The rules for certain signals such as alarm calls for eagles will vary from one clan to another even amongst species. Yes, they have dialects, colloquialisms and family accents too!
What does the bird do when he hears a particular sound made by another bird? Which ones does he translate to warnings? If a bird flies off after some friendly chatter, it may not be in reaction to anything you have done. Often they have heard another bird or animal issue a sound. Either their parent is calling them, or some other bird wants their help, or another species has issued a warning. Unfamiliar sounds from inside the house, or an approaching vehicle, animal or person can also give them a fright or minimally cause them to move to safer place. Safety is a bird's first and most primal instinct.
How drowsy is the bird? Birds need regular naps during the day. Does he look like it's time for a short nap or trance? Or has he just come out of one looking like the most dopey, insane creature you've ever seen? If the bird is on sentry duty keeping guard while the others are foraging for food or taking a nap, he or she may not have the time to socialise with you. But as they become friendlier, they will return for a chat and will offer an explanation in their own way.
The key is to follow their sound and action. Often this means quickly putting down the work you were doing and running out to see what's happening. If you can't see what the ruckus is about, ask them. They'll get the idea that you're interested and start showing you more.
If you can make the time, start a journal and just keep daily notes on what you've observed and what you think is happening. You will find that your interpretations will change as you gain more knowledge of their actions. By keeping a record of the activities, you'll recognise patterns in their behaviour and sometimes it can be weeks or months before you connect various scenarios and begin to see how the events in their lives emerge.
Soon you will be able to identify their habits, pleasures and fears. You will recognise their friends from the company they keep, notice their competitors and know from the warnings of the appearance of their foes. You will notice the 'jobs' or roles that have been assigned to them within their group and watch their skill level develop as they grow. Their responsibilities can vary from hour to hour, change with the seasons, especially when its time to nest and also with their stage in life.
As you observe the patterns develop, grow and vary, you will find that you are able to understand a lot more about what they are telling you and you will be able to converse with them more successfully.
Regular readers of WingedHearts.Org will have noticed many conversations between the birds and us, one of my favourites is Talking Kookaburras Love 'The Big Eye'.
In the next part, we will look at Understanding the Bird's Actions, in more detail, as this is the basis for a meaningful communication. 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.