Thursday, 11 December 2014 11:00

Using Bird Calls

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Playing recorded bird calls to attract birds for the purpose of photographing them, is a widely used technique to get a target species to come in to range in a controlled setting.

Once set up in my chosen location, I play the selected call in short bursts to attract the bird. You will find that many species will quickly lose interest and depart after a certain amount of playback. If like me you have a selection of calls for the same species you may find that one recording is likely to be more effective. You have probably noticed that at many places you get flocks of small birds passing through. I have found in such instances the playback of Brown Thornbill will attract a number of these species that forage together. In your location you may have a different species whose call has a similar affect. Becoming familiar with the call of different species is definitely worth while, as it will enable you to select the right call from your collection if you want to attract that particular species.

Use a Hide

Once you have managed to get a bird to respond in a positive way to your call the last thing you want is it to quickly become aware of your presence and flee before an image can be captured. I nearly always use a hide in conjunction with the calls. So that I can control everything from the hide I use a 5 metre length of audio cord to connect the speaker to the MP3 player.

Speaker Position

If you are going to the trouble of using calls then you should spend some time planning and preparing the right location for the speakers. Have a particular perch as your target, then give due consideration to the background, light direction etc. Before using the call take test shots to confirm the optimal camera settings. Place the speaker directly below the target perch, or near the target perch.  


Cease playing the recording immediately the bird displays any sign of distress or discomfort. Learn to read these signs.

Do not play calls during the nesting season.

Do not use calls in areas that are frequently visited by birders/photographers.

Do not expose the birds you are attracting to additional dangers, for example predators. 

If a particular species is known to react badly do not use its call.

Do not play the call of rare or endangered birds.

MP3 Player

A small MP3 player with at least 2 Gb of storage should be adequate for storing a good collection of Australian bird calls. I would highly recommend paying a little more and purchasing a player that allows you to sort and easily find individual recordings quickly. Once you have a collection of calls spend some time sorting the calls on your computer into easily searchable categories. Normally this is alphabetical and by bird type. For example, Honeyeaters. If I am travelling to a particular location, to speed up the selection of the calls I will create a folder containing birds specific to that location.

Suitable Speakers

Finding what I regard as suitable speakers has proved to be very difficult. Most MP3/iPod speakers simply do not produce enough volume in my opinion to work satisfactorily in the field. The commonly purchased speakers work well enough in the home environment, but as soon as there is a breeze, or any other background noise they are easily drowned out. Ideally what you are looking for is a speaker that can at least produce a similar volume to the species you are going to want to attract. Make sure your speakers are fully portable (uses batteries) . Also purchase a length of audio cord that will allow you to control everything from a distance.

This is thebest speakerI have found to date. It is robust and produces plenty of volume. It was designed to call in big game, however it works well with a normal MP3. It comes with 23 metres of cord, weighs about 1 kg and requires 4 "C" batteries to operate. This "Cass Creek Big Horn XL Extra Loud Speaker" and was imported from the USA for a cost US$ 39.95.

Source of Calls

Bird calls can be purchased from several locations

David Stewart has an extensive selection of CDs for sale.


This site has small copyrighted recordings of many species. Recorded byFred van Gessel.


The BOCA collection of  10 CDs are available from the “Blue Wren Bookshop” . $25 for non-members and $22.00 for members for each CD. They also have tape cassettes for about half the price.

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More in this category: « Using a Bird Hide