Developing a Calling System
In the days, before I was photographer I used to hunt the Eastern Wild Turkey. To hunt the Wild Turkey you had to be proficient with a turkey call of some nature. Whether it was a mouth call, a box call, or a slate call they all made sounds that imitated a Wild Turkey. The sounds or calls from these devices were necessary to lure the turkey to come into range for a shot. As a hunter, I developed the ability to call the wild turkey and practiced this for years. In retrospect, it was the thing to do to become adept at turkey hunting.
As I developed into a Nature and Wildlife Photographer, I was able to photography wild turkeys with this ability. As my skills as a photographer grew, I developed a passion to take photos of small birds. I used to set up on my back deck and photograph the birds as they came to the feeders. For years, I focused on songbirds, taking the photo as best I could in what I had to work with. I kept saying there has to be a better way to get that prefect photo of a bird. I would Pishing, which is a technique birders use in the field to attract small birds in order to get a better view to identify them it by making any small, repetitive noise in an effort to attract birds. All the while making these noises, it never dawned on me to call to the birds.
Then one day it occurred to me. All birds and animals make sounds or calls. Therefore, I thought if I could call to them, I would have better success. I did some research in All About birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology information on birds, found that they collect bird sound and you can play them, and hear what birds sound like. I did some more research and found that calling birds became controversial and some people did not like it at all.
Then I read Ethics of Bird Calls, by Melissa Mayntz, Birding/Wild Birds Expert, which states it was ok to call birds with sounding devices, however you should limit the calling in the nesting season, when you use recordings, play them carefully and responsibly. Therefore, I decided that calling birds would enhance my photography and I would become a responsible caller. I found that most birds are naturally social and investigate the calls of other birds. The more birds there are in one area, the more noise they will make and the additional birds they will attract with their songs and calls.
Now that, I believed I could call birds responsibly I had to have a way to do it. Therefore, I went into the internet so see what was available. Then all kind of electronic devices to make calls, then I saw an ad for the iBird Pro App. iBird PRO app is designed to satisfy the needs of advanced birders and professional naturalists. It offers comprehensive identification, behavior, habitat and ecology information, twice as many search attributes as Plus, hand-drawn illustrations, professional photographs, range maps, and playable calls for 924 North American and Hawaiian bird species.
Once I saw, it had birdcalls I was excited, went right to the app store, and downloaded it. Now I wanted to put it to use. I had been hearing an Eastern Towhee in the backyard, so I decided that would be my first test. I went into the IBird app and found the Eastern Towhee and made a couple of calls then turned it off. The next thing I heard was the towhee calling back. I made another call to the bird and stopped. In a matter of seconds, the towhee came in close. Calling off and on to the sound he heard. That first test of the IPhone app was successful. I used the IPhone App successfully for many birds. However, it has a range limitation. If the birds were close by the iPhone, it would entice the birds for a good photograph, but if the birds were, further away it did not have the speaker capacity to reach out to them.
I noticed that the IPhone had a terminal for a wired speaker, so I purchased one with a volume control and an off on switch. I used this setup unsuccessfully in my blind but it was very cumbersome as the wire was short and it drew attention to me. I wanted a setup that I could place the speaker nearby to draw the attention away from the blind. Then one day we were in a department store shopping when I noticed some wireless speakers that used Bluetooth. I bought one and parred it to the IPhone. Now I had a calling system which I could use to call birds which I could position away from the blind, so that attention is too the call and not the blind. This setup was very successful and I use it today.
I also use it my car as I cruise the backroads calling periodically for songbirds, owls, and hawks. If I get a response, I call back to it and wait. With Barred Owls it is a short wait as they coming flying right in to investigate. I then can get photos of them from the car. Other times I go to an area where I know there are owls and setup my equipment on my tripod, place the call, and then make a short call and the owl will fly right up to you.
This is an instance of how got some photos of some Great Horned Owls. I knew where some owls were hanging out. I get out there very early, setup my blind, placed the Bluetooth call away from the blind. I got in the blind, brought up the IBird pro app, entered Great Horned, then set back, relaxed and waited until I heard them hoot. Once I heard them hoot, I followed up with a hoot with the IPhone speaker combination. The next thing I knew I carrying on a conversation with a Great Horned Owl. I discovered once they call, you should pause, and make them try to find you. I let them call back a number of times before calling back to them. This technique has worked very well for me. I waited for the owls to call back several times then I made a short call back to them and suddenly there was an owl in a nearby tree hooting, allowing for some photos. I did not have to call anymore as the owl was calling and soon his mate joined him. After several minutes of silence, I made another call to them and one of them flew off the tree to try to locate the call. I was able to get photos as the owl flew from the tree.
I have been very effective in using calls to entice the many songbirds to either come in or move so that I can get a good photo of them. It works on any bird you have a call for, such as Owls, Songbirds, Hawks, and more. In New York State where I spend my summers, I drive the back roads stopping periodically and make
I found another trick I occasionally use when I go to a new area where I do not know what birds are in the area. I use the Eastern Screech Owl call. When you play, this call the birds usually gather to create a mobbing behavior that goes after the predator. The predator in this case is my speaker placed in a strategic location. This allows you to get photos and to identify which birds are there. Once you identify the bird, you can concentrate on a specific bird.
During nesting season, you should limit calls because it can cause irregularities in the adults getting food to the babies. However, it is my experience that during nesting season you can call until the cows come home and you will not get a bird to come in. I have tried calling cautiously during the nesting season and could not get any activity. I believe the birds have chosen mates and are spending their time making nests and incubating eggs. There is no need to respond to calls now. This usually last a couple of weeks. Once the young bird has fledged, the activity picks up again.
In summary, it is my belief that it ok to call birds for photography. For example, a turkey hunter uses a call or sound to entice the turkey into range. I believe there is a precedence started for calling birds. A good call can lure a reclusive bird out into the open for a better view, proper identification, or photo opportunity. A call to different types of birds can confirm whether birds are in the area, or it may coax birds into desirable behaviors to observe, such as raising a crest or assuming a dominant or aggressive posture.
However, I also believe in the ethics you should limit use to 3-5 tries over a 20-minute period. You should obey local restrictions such as the National Wildlife Refuges prohibit the use of calls of any type. You should not call for uncommon birds such as Endangered or threatened birds. You should establish Group Permission, if you are birding in a group; ask the other birders if anyone minds the use of calls, if so do not use the call. You should play calls carefully and responsibly. Be Patient, the birds and can hear songs from quite a distance, and birders should be patient when waiting for a response. It may take several minutes after the sounds for a bird to arrive in the area and respond to the challenge, and careful waiting can be rewarding.