I pished for this bird


Bird back.


Bird front.

This little bird turns out to be a Magnolia Warbler. Here it is in a live oak tree with some dead branches, on Henry Sewall Way in south Sewall’s Point, Florida. I was out for a slow walk with my bird camera. The way was spangled with candy wrappers from last night’s trick-or-treaters.


Some decorations are still up. Love this one. The skeleton on top is playing the harmonica, nice touch.

I didn’t know what my yellow and black bird was so I searched “black yellow warbler” on my iPhone right there and came up with that Audubon print. John James Audubon identified them as “Black & Yellow Warblers” but they are now called Magnolia Warblers.


From Cornell Lab of Ornithology All About Birds:

  • Though it has very specific habitat preferences in the breeding season, the Magnolia Warbler occupies a very broad range of habitats in winter:  from sea level to 1,500 meters elevation, and most landscape types, except cleared fields.

  • The name of the species was coined in 1810 by Alexander Wilson, who collected a specimen from a magnolia tree in Mississippi. He actually used the English name “Black-and-yellow Warbler” and used “magnolia” for the Latin species name, which became the common name over time.


This bird was flitting from branch to branch and hard to see, but responded to my pshh pshh pishing.

10,000 birds: The Fine Art of Pishing

How does one pish?
Quite simply, to pish is to say “pish, pish, pish” several times in the hopes that curious birds will come and investigate. There’s no real right or wrong way to pish. In fact, one should experiment with different variations until finding a style that works. A pish usually isn’t too loud and sounds like you are trying to silence someone: Psshh. Coincidentally, this is the same sound you might hear from another birder if you dare raise your voice above a soft whisper when you’re out watching since birds are sensitive creatures that will fly away if they hear so much as a cough, etc. etc.

Another form of pishing is also known as ‘squeaking.’ To squeak, noisily kiss the back of your hand in order to attract hidden birds. This form of pishing makes a noise like a bird scolding a predator, which often entices other birds to join the harangue. It does not, however, entice other birders to join the kissing of your hand, for which you’ll usually be most thankful.

Every birder seems to have a different style of pish, so much so that you might have more success identifying birders by their calls than the birds themselves. Take this as an invitation to innovate your own perfect pish.


I do the quiet kind of pishing, not the noisy back-of-hand-kissing pishing, since I am only trying to attract some birds not the attention of neighbors!

Does pishing work?
Surprisingly, pishing really does work, though not everywhere. As any North American birder will tell you, pishing works amazingly well over most of the continent. More proficient pishers than I can coax curious chickadees to land on their heads. Pishing also works well in northern Europe but isn’t always as successful in the Tropics. While some adepts may have enticed normally furtive antbirds to hop right onto their hiking boots as they stood and pished in the jungle, our field correspondents have had little luck with pishing in the forests of Brazil or Venezuala, or Kenya or Nigeria.

The amazing thing about pishing is that when it works, it appears akin to magic; a barren tree can appear to suddenly fruit with tiny songbirds scrambling to spot the source of the sibilant swooshing!

There’s a little bird magic for you.

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