Communicating With Wild Birds - Part 5
by Gitie House
Let's face it, one of the biggest challenges in communicating with wild birds is finding the time to spend with them. Wild birds are outdoor creatures and spend all their lives in the trees or under shrubs, around paddocks, or in ponds as the case may be. Many people, are like me and spend a lot of their time indoors. Even folks whose work or hobby enables them to stay outside for significant periods of time, are busy with their commitments and seldom able to spend their time observing their avian friends. When something important arises in a bird's life, the birds do not just come to us and say 'Hey, something interesting is happening in our community, come and have a look'. And when they do, we cannot reply 'sorry mate, tell them to hold off until next Saturday 10.00 am, because I'm not free before then'. If you don't respond in the moment, you could lose a vital opportunity to share something essential from their life, perhaps discover another amazing fact and deepen that precious relationship.
Most of the days in a bird's life are full of ordinary humdrum activities interspersed with long periods of silent stillness. Trying to watch them for long periods of time is not always practical, and days can go by without discovering anything new. While it's not always practical to drop everything you're doing and rush outside every time you hear a call, you do want to be able to recognise the times when it is crucial to respond immediately and follow up on their activities outside. To achieve this you have to build your own knowledge of the patterns of behaviour of your individual bird friends, their friends, and the general bird community in your backyard. This can only be done over time but the steps are relatively easy to follow.
Keys To Building A Relationship Even In Busy Lifestyles:
1. Make time for regular interaction and make it interesting:
In your schedule allocate some time when you can spend some uninterrupted time with your birds. This can be early in the mornings for breakfast or just before dusk for supper, or perhaps you can only make time once daily or twice weekly or only on the weekends. Birds are master observers of patterns of behaviour, they will pick the routine you create and soon learn when to interact with you. Make these times interesting for both the birds and yourself. Call them by their names or when you're ready, give them some food and talk to them. If they show interest or just look cute, comment on what you see. Ask them questions. The birds will start to learn your tones, sounds and body language. If they jump around or fly to the other side, follow them to see what they're trying to show you. This tells them that you're listening to them, taking an interest in their activities and want to know more. If they talk to you, acknowledge them. When they're leaving thank them for coming and making time for you.
2. Build a knowledge base about the seasonal life cycles and lifestyles of the species in your area:
Find out all you can from books in the library or local bird watching groups about the seasonal events in the birds lives. Once you know when they are likely to mate, their breeding cycles, where they build their nests, the types of nests, their allies, their enemies, their mating calls, alarm calls and general information about the species, you form a better idea of when major changes are likely to occur. This information is very helpful in knowing what is likely to happen in your birds life at various times in the year and you can look out for it or note variations from it. Knowing the general pattern of some of the more common species around you also give you a head start in noticing the interactions amongst the species as the cycles overlap or diverge.
3. Develop your own insight into your particular bird friend's individual habits and community interactions:
As you get your birds better, you will have insights into their own individual personalities, attitudes, preferences and styles. The more you talk with them, the more you become their confidant and friend. They begin to introduce you to their other friends, share with you their secrets, and include you in their negotiations.
4. Listen for cues in the sounds the birds make for a different message:
Are they using a different tone of voice or sitting on different perch? Where is their attention? Are they busy listening to the sounds other birds are making? What sounds comfort them and which sounds cause them alarm? How do they respond to the environment? All this tells you what to look for and your knowledge base expands.
5. Notice changes in their behaviour:
Do they look different? Are they distracted? Are they not talking to you as much? What are they doing instead? How many of these variations can you relate to the information you have gained about their species generally? Do they look anxious or sick? Are they trying to tell you something? Ask them to show you.
6. Keep a daily journal and look for wider patterns and stories that emerge over time:
Keeping a journal is the best way to keep track of what's happening in your birds life. In the beginning, you will have much to write about as a lot of information will be new. After a few months, you'll note only things that haven't been recorded before. As you compare the activities, you'll see broader patterns and see how their community life develops. You can take photographs as well. Digital cameras have made this extremely easy and inexpensive. Photographs also serve as good memory joggers and story tellers.
Before long you will be able to recognise a range of regular events and pick the unusual activities that warrant further attention. But remember, each season is different and no matter how much we learn, there's much we don't know and the birds can always surprise us with the depth of their consideration and care.