Imagine you’re walking in the forest when suddenly you hear a bird making a loud & repeating call in the distant woods.
Do you know what that bird is saying?
Would you know how to interpret that bird’s language?
For most modern humans, the vocal expressions of bird songs, calls & other distant sounds appear like a random jumble of noise & information.
But to the trained observer, there are useful messages being passed over long distances through all of nature by the quiet voices of songbirds.
Bird language is like having a secret network of spies in the forest, constantly watching and passing survival information from place to place.
With careful listening and observation, you can use this language of birds to know when a fox is hunting in far fields. Or when the bobcat is stalking along the ravine… Or even when other humans are moving in the distant landscape.
Bird language is the true secret behind the legendary stealth of rarely seen animals like Jaguars & Snow Leopards.
As well as the equally legendary ability to locate wild animals by those few native-trained scouts, guides & trackers still present in the world today.
It’s an extremely useful skill that I’ve been passionately exploring for many years starting back as a teenager in the eastern woods of Canada.
And today I’d like to present a beginner’s guide to bird language compiled from a whole host of the most useful things I’ve learned along my journey with this amazing and life-changing skill.
Let’s start by looking at a definition with several key distinctions to clarify our understanding of what bird language actually is…
(Hint: bird language is not just about the meaning of bird sounds…)
What is Bird Language?
Bird language is a wildlife tracking skill that uses body language & vocalizations made by birds in order to locate aerial & ground animals in their natural habitat.
With bird language, animals are not located by their tracks & sign, but by following the live alarm calls of local birds.
There’s a lot to unpack here, but the important thing I want to get across is that bird language is not just a cute way to think about nature!
Sometimes people think it’s all about bird sounds and what those different calls mean to birds… but that’s only a very small part of what bird language truly is.
Bird language is first and foremost a wildlife tracking skill and a survival skill that enables keen listeners to predict live events happening at a distance in any landscape.
When a bobcat moves in the forest, birds will react by gathering around and flying up in a circular pattern while making distinct and repetitive vocalizations.
This pattern is extremely subtle to someone who hasn’t been trained in what to listen for, yet to an experienced bird language practitioner, the alarms of a bobcat are quite obvious even from many yards away through thick brush.
Knowing the bird language pattern of a Bobcat, it’s possible to predict the approaching animal, sometimes as much as 30 minutes ahead of that animal’s arrival.
The same is true of hawks, owls, other wild and domestic cats, weasels, eagles, bears, coyotes, foxes and most types of animals larger than a rabbit.
With bird language, it’s possible to discern not only when there are animals moving in the forest (or savannah, desert, prairie, any environment),
But also to know specific qualities & characteristics of that animal such as:
- What type of animal is moving.
- How far away that animal is.
- How quickly that animal is moving.
- Whether that animal is aware of your presence or not.
- Whether that animal is hunting, or simply passing through.
- And many more amazing things.
Just imagine having all this information about local wildlife right at your fingertips… Can you imagine how this would transform your experience of nature?
This dramatic transformation of your experience & awareness outside is really what bird language is all about.
It’s an entirely new way to sense live events happening in your local environment that would normally be invisible to the untrained eye (or ear).
This ability is incredibly rare in modern times, but the application of bird language is still used today by the most successful guides and native trackers in parts of the African continent and others of earth’s wildest places.
The reason for this becomes clear when we understand what this ability means for humans living in a survival situation surrounded by dangerous predators.
Bird Language Is An Awareness Based Survival Skill
One of the biggest secrets for learning bird language is that you need to be able to consciously engage your survival instincts and channel that raw energy into listening deeply with open sensory awareness.
Now that might sound like a strange thing to say, but stick with me because I promise this is important if you want to learn bird language.
Most modern humans simply don’t know what it’s like to have dangerous predators or other living threats constantly hiding in the bushes.
Therefore, almost nobody in modern times has learned how to use their listening & sensory awareness capabilities to the full potential.
Yet to early humans, listening was a primary and constant concern for survival. Quite simply, if you didn’t pay attention to bird language, you would die.
So if you want to learn bird language, you need to realize this skill requires a quantum leap of several orders of magnitude in your basic sensing capabilities.
Just imagine you’re suddenly dropped in the middle of the wildest parts of Africa surrounded by hungry lions, leopards, snakes, hippos, and a multitude of other dangerous animals that could very efficiently kill you.
I guarantee that in very short time you would find yourself listening & watching into the bushes more deeply than you’ve ever done before.
Every little twig snapping, every call or chirp in the distance, every little flip of a bird’s tail is bringing you information.
If you get distracted by daydreaming or thinking about anything other than the present moment… BAM! You’re done! You just missed the alarms and walked into the jaws of a lion.
It might sound a bit intense, but I really believe this is one of the main reasons why fully developed bird language skills are so rare in modern times.
Bird language requires a certain degree of mindful intensity in order to wakeup your senses to their full potential.
In order to successfully apply this skill, your mind must become absolutely quiet, and your senses must expand far beyond what you’ve probably ever experienced before.
This is also where we find one of the absolute greatest benefits of bird language for modern humans with overburdened minds.
You may not require bird language as a survival skill, but deep listening to birds will also soothe your mind & soul into a state of peace & inner quiet.
(This is also why practicing bird language skills is considered such an effective way to facilitate rapid personal growth within students of nature connection)
So here’s a quick recap on the benefits of bird language:
- Experience a dramatic increase in your overall awareness & sensitivity to nature.
- Gain the ability to locate animals from long distances without needing to directly see the animal.
- Learn to identify what types of animals are moving in the forest just by the patterns of alarm.
- Encounter rare & shy animals without scaring them away.
- Learn to circumvent nature’s alarm system and avoid detection by those animals (or other humans who know bird language).
- Improve your ability to hunt animals for food or photography.
- Avoid close encounters with dangerous animals like large wild cats, bears, snakes, etc.
- Embody a dynamic state of meditation through deep listening & sensory awareness leading to states of inner peace and mental quiet.
- Connect with your inner sense of wildness. (Bird language will make you feel more like a wild animal).
- Connect deeply with all of nature & awaken your naturalist intelligence.
So are you ready to learn bird language? Let’s go!
Three Levels of Bird Language
Bird language is a multi-faceted skill requiring a combination of both knowledge about birds, and the ability to correlate patterns across interconnected systems in nature.
It requires using all five senses alongside critical thinking skills in a dynamic combination that most modern people don’t ever learn at school.
Making this shift in awareness requires careful strategy in terms of how you listen and practice.
To make the learning process more natural, we can break bird language skills into 3 levels, where each level represents a dramatic leap in both the complexity and practical application of bird language.
Level One: Bird Identification
Bird identification is a fairly common skill.
This is the most basic level of knowledge about birds, yet this is also where most people will focus the vast majority of their attention.
It’s important to realize that while it can be quite useful to have some basic identification skills, the ability to identify birds doesn’t actually have all that much to do with bird language.
At advanced levels, it’s possible to interpret bird alarm activity even without knowing the specific identity of a bird.
Bird language is a universal language of nature, which means that it works the same on every continent, whether or not you know the identity of birds giving the alarm calls.
Being able to identify birds by sight and sound does have some effect on overall nature appreciation, but it typically doesn’t help you know when that bird is bringing you useful information.
So if we want to learn bird language, we need to go well beyond simple bird identification.
Level Two: Bird Behavior
The next level of bird language happens with the realization that, ‘Hey, these birds are actually doing things that I can observe!’
Examples of bird behavior include the ability to spot signs of nesting, singing, territorial behavior, feeding activity, migration patterns, even molting and seasonal movement.
These things all fall into the level of basic bird behavior.
This alone is a huge leap forward in terms of the depth of connection you experience with birds.
At this level, you start to gain a practical understanding of how bird activities change & evolve throughout the year.
You might look forward to the nesting season and watch with excitement during spring as your old friends come back from the migration.
You’ll get to know the associated changes in behavior when eggs are being laid and all kinds of interesting things.
So bird behavior definitely represents a significant increase of appreciation and understanding about birds.
At this stage, you might even have your first experience of discovering bird alarm activity.
Very often this would be something like a group of Crows mobbing an Owl (which is possibly the most obvious and well known type of bird alarm pattern).
Yet even knowing how to observe bird behavior is still not deep enough to successfully apply the skill of bird language and locate animals by following alarms.
If we really want to experience the full expression of bird language, then we need to go even deeper and develop a complete knowledge of the subtle dynamics involved during alarm situations.
Level Three: True Bird Language (Interspecies Alarm Dynamics)
The deepest application of bird language comes from having specific knowledge about one particular type of bird behavior known as interspecies communication.
It starts with the realization that birds are constantly eavesdropping on each other in order to gain advanced warning of predatory danger.
This means that if the sparrow over in my neighbor’s yard makes an alarm call directed towards a house cat, the Robins in my own yard will respond & pay attention.
And within a few short seconds, every bird within ear shot knows exactly where that cat is.
These alarm vocalizations can then be passed along secondary channels as birds & animals further out from the cat will subtly change their behavior & respond to what’s happening in the forest.
The core of bird language is all about tracking these subtle waves of alarm being passed around the landscape by multiple species like a big game of hide and go seek.
It’s life & death… Predator & prey…
This is really what causes bird language to work!
And for humans who learn to interpret this language, it leads to a profound awakening of your ability to predict events happening in nature.
Baseline & Forest Harmony
With enough sensitivity, you eventually begin to perceive nature as like a massive web of connections.
When all is peaceful in the forest, it’s a lot like looking at the calm surface of a pond with absolutely no ripples or waves.
In tracking terminology, this calm surface is like the substrate of bird language. There’s a certain harmony & balance that can be perceived.
But whenever an animal moves into that space, it’s like a stone being thrown into the pond, sending out concentric rings, ripples & waves, that can be traced back to the source.
Eventually it goes far beyond just birds as you realize that even things as subtle as fish, frogs & insects are all throwing off concentric rings anyone with enough sensitivity can freely observe.
So we could even classify a 4th level of bird language, that I sometimes call “concentric awareness”.
This is when we go even beyond bird language, to more directly perceive the language of all nature and discover that all of nature is speaking and telling us useful things.
Don’t worry if all this still seems a bit abstract.
This is about to get much more practical in the next section as we dig into the steps & techniques for actually doing all this.
The main thing to remember is that bird language requires a level beyond bird identification & bird behavior while simultaneously encompassing aspects of both.
Now we’re ready to look at the actual steps required to move through these 3 levels and reach true competency with your bird language skills.
5 Steps To Bird Language Mastery
So how can you actually master the art and science of bird language?
What are the steps you need to follow if you want to track these waves of disturbance on your own landscape?
The most important thing is to keep it practical, and continually focus on pushing the edge of your knowledge & awareness over time.
If I were going to mentor you starting from scratch all the way to the more advanced levels… here are 5 of the most important things I would train you to do.
Step 1: Start Watching & Observing Birds Carefully
The first thing required to develop knowledge of bird language is to start watching birds as often as you can.
It’s important to realize that getting outside once a year on vacation is probably not going to provide enough experience to successfully learn the complete skill.
In every case, the people who are most successful are those who find ways to integrate their practice in a simple daily or weekly routine.
This is something I would strongly encourage you do right in your own backyard or any nearby local landscape that’s easy for you to access on a consistent basis.
The fastest progress with bird language comes from focusing on the most common ground-feeding birds you encounter every single day near your home.
In North America, this will likely be something like a robin, or a sparrow, perhaps a starling or even a cardinal. In other parts of the world, you can look for your own local sparrow or thrush species to start with.
Remember, you don’t need to be an expert of identification… but you do need to study the most common birds in much greater depth than what is typically done by hobby bird watchers.
This process is vastly simplified by starting with just one individual bird and asking lots of great questions to help you know that bird from every possible angle.
So go find the most common bird in your bioregion and work on questions like:
- Where does it live?
- Where does it go?
- What calls & songs does it make?
- What does it eat?
- Where does it sleep?
- Where does it sing from?
- What perch does it use?
- Which month is the peak singing time?
- How does it’s diet change in different seasons?
- Where does it fight with other birds for territory?
- Where does it build the nest?
- Does it migrate? And when?
- How does it’s behavior change in each of the 4 seasons?
There are countless dozens of questions to explore here, each pointing your attention to a different aspect of that bird’s life.
The main point to get across here is you need to watch that bird more carefully than you perhaps ever realized was possible…
It means that if you’re watching a robin feed on the grass, and suddenly it flies away into the bushes – don’t just give up watching because it flew out of sight.
You need to have some persistence and try to track it more closely because birds do tend to be quite mobile.
See if you can follow it! Or wait a little while and see how long it takes for that bird to come back!
An important principle for learning birds deeply is – The longer you can follow a complete sequence of behavior, the faster you learn. It’s that simple.
Eventually you’ll start to notice that every bird has a particular rhythm of movement & activity that it follows through it’s natural course of life.
Getting tuned with the unique rhythms of bird activity is the very first step to mastering this skill of bird language.
Step 2: Learn To Identify The Five Voices of the Birds
Next, while you’re watching that bird and following it’s activities through the four seasons, you also want to practice listening to the five voices of the birds.
The five voices of the birds is a simple frame of reference to help you quickly sort out what birds are feeling just by listening to their voices…
Pay attention for these 5 voices:
- Song – These are long melodious tweets & whistles made by birds as part of courtship & territorial claims. Songs come in many different forms, but are typically quite easy to discern by their complexity & uniqueness.
- Companion Calls (or feeding calls) – are often made during feeding situations. These are soft & rhythmic vocalizations shared between friendly birds like mates or flock members. These calls are extremely common, but can be fairly quiet so it requires careful listening.
- Territorial Aggression – These are loud, aggressive calls made by birds as they defend their territories from rivals. You might see birds physically attacking or flying at each other (often two members of the same species). These calls are easily confused with alarms, but it’s actually a good sign there are no dangerous predators in the immediate area.
- Juvenile Begging – These are frantic calls of hunger made by young birds begging to be fed by mom & dad. Fledglings are an easy target for predators because they don’t yet have the awareness to listen for danger. It’s important not to confuse these birds for adults, because it could throw you off the trail of an alarm.
- Alarms – These are calls & vocalizations associated with predators or other possible threats on the landscape. Most birds have multiple types of alarms that correspond with different types of danger. Some alarms can even be completely silent.
If you’d like some good examples of what these 5 voices sound like, I explored this framework in much greater depth in another article – Do Birds Have Language?
Sometimes these five voices of the birds are presented as the entire core teaching of bird language, but in my own personal experience it’s really just one small step along the way.
The most important thing to remember is you need to use your eyes and ears simultaneously to make the fastest progress with bird language.
Notice that step 1 is very visual and body language focused, while step 2 is very auditory & sound focused.
Very often if I’m mentoring someone who seems to struggle with bird language, it’s because they’re emphasizing one particular sense more than the other.
The connection between step 1 & step 2 is a BIG secret in bird language because it enables you to blend your visual & auditory senses.
You want to get to the point where the sound of a bird will trigger an image in your mind’s eye, even when you can’t physically see the bird.
Step 3: Build Accurate Confidence About Alarms VS Non-Alarms
The core of bird language is all about being able to confidently identify bird alarms vs non-alarm behavior.
The key word here is confidently because as you’ll discover, it’s EXTREMELY common for people to mis-identify bird alarms.
Sometimes birds will act in ways that seem incredibly alarmed, when it’s actually a perfectly safe situation for them.
Then at other times, birds will be giving very clear alarm calls, but to the untrained ear it just doesn’t seem all that alarming.
The result is most beginners experience a lot of “misfires” which leads to a feeling of general uncertainty about what’s actually happening.
The patterns of movement & sound during bird alarm sequences can sometimes change incredibly fast, so there’s very little room in the field for being wishy washy about knowing whether something is an alarm or not.
You want to get to the point where you can be at least 95% confident about alarm vs not alarm within the first few seconds of hearing a call.
This simply requires practice and repetition so you can build up your memory banks with lots of reference experiences.
Whenever you suspect you might be hearing an alarm, the most important thing is to not pre-judge before you gather enough concrete evidence.
The more scientific you can be about this investigation process, the more likely you are to identify the truth of the situation.
Contrary to what some people might teach, bird language does require a high level of truth and proof in order to reach high levels of accuracy.
So whenever you hear or see something that seems like it might be an alarm… stop what you’re doing and ask yourself these 4 questions:
Question #1 – How Long Does The Sequence Last?
The length of time covered by an alarm call is one of the most important clues to help you build certainty & confidence.
A short blip of bird activity could be anything because it is fairly common for birds to have minor outbursts & even moments of confusion that don’t end up being alarms.
Yet true alarms associated with the presence of predators will last for as long as that animal is moving through the forest.
This frequently translates into many hours of disturbance, which is extremely useful for the purpose of alarm identification!
So whenever you notice suspicious activity happening for long periods of time, that’s your first cue to go exploring & investigate closer.
Question #2 – How Many Birds Are Involved?
The more birds that are involved in a sequence of activity, the more likely you are in fact witnessing an alarm.
If it’s just a single bird making some noise, this is a lot less suspicious than when every bird in the forest is acting intense.
As you start to notice an increase in the total number of birds getting involved in the action, this is another good sign there might be something for you to be aware of.
Question #3 – Are There Multiple Species Involved?
Even more important than the total number of birds, is the number of different species involved.
This is because alarms are an interspecies response. It’s very important to not confuse alarm calls with territorial squabbles or events happening that are limited to one single species.
For example: If you notice the chickadees are all going crazy, a beginner might easily think that’s an alarm because it sounds so loud and intense.
But if you pay close attention to the Sparrows & Robins happily feeding nearby, it adds context to the situation and tells you the behavior is limited to the chickadees (and therefore not an alarm).
Pay attention as the number of bird species involved in a sequence increases, the likelihood of alarm becomes much higher, so you should definitely investigate closer.
Question #4 – Where Is The Alarm Located?
Sometimes the best way to confirm whether something is truly an alarm, is by looking at where specifically the activity is centered, and consider whether it makes logical sense for an animal to be there.
You might notice a big ball of birds all focusing their attention in the hidden canopy of a tree. This would be the perfect place for something like a hawk or an Owl, so it certainly merits more investigation.
Likewise, a slowly moving set of alarms close to the ground in a dense thicket would make a great opportunity for ground mammals.
Do you see how these questions direct your attention towards concrete evidence that builds certainty & confidence?
These four questions will get you started with the type of observation required to build confidence backed up by real proof & behavioral evidence.
Using these types of awareness questions will gradually train your eyes and ears to notice more qualities that polarize your interpretation of bird language in one direction or the other.
As you gather more information, you will either become increasingly confident that there definitely IS an alarm happening or there definitely IS NOT an alarm happening.
In both situations… certainty is always a much better position than feeling wishy washy.
You want to get to the point where you are at least 95% confident within the first few seconds of hearing a call, and have the concrete evidence to back up your interpretation.
Step 4: Investigate Potential Alarm Scenarios
As you become more and more convinced that there are indeed alarms happening in the bushes, you’ll soon discover that simply being aware of alarms is really just the beginning.
It’s entirely possible to be 100% confident that there’s an alarm happening, and yet at the same time being unable to locate the animal at the source.
Bird alarm sequences can sometimes happen with incredible speed and subtlety.
It’s also very common for animals to be extremely well hidden in the bushes or tree canopy.
So if you want to successfully match wits with a truly wild animal, you need to remember that most animals are actively trying to avoid being seen by you.
Invisibility & survival is a way of life for them… and the ones who survive become incredibly skilled at living beyond the edge of normal human awareness.
So how do you actually investigate the alarms you discover while exploring bird language?
One of the key things is we need to get a feel for how different types of alarm patterns are moving through your landscape.
If you can determine how exactly an animal is moving just by listening to the gradual evolution of an alarm pattern… this gives you one of the biggest clues you’ll need to actually position yourself in order to see it.
So in order to investigate alarm sequences, we really need to think critically about how animals move in the forest.
A Cat Example:
In behavioral terms, cats tend to move in slow, steady patterns of movement… so naturally, their alarms tend to move quite slowly too.
This is true for small domestic cats, all the way up to their much larger and wilder cousins (cougars, jaguars, leopards, etc.)
It can take members of the cat family a surprisingly long time to move through certain parts of the forest.
Plus, cats will frequently stop in hidden spots to watch & listen, which dramatically affects how quickly the alarms will move.
And since cats are bound to the ground, you’ll notice the alarms for cats tend to be very ground focused as well, which can be easily observed by looking at the positioning of the birds involved.
Cats VS Hawks Comparison:
The movements of slow-paced ground mammals like cats (or bears & even raccoons), is in dramatic contrast to something like a bird eating hawk, which is much more likely to move through the forest in fast spurts of activity followed by stationary perching.
You might suddenly hear a burst of high pitched calls ring out in a line through the forest, followed by silence in the wake.
Then between the outbursts, you might even notice a more centralized ball of alarms ringing out from a single location in the mid canopy.
In bird language terms, these subtle qualities of alarm are known as the shapes of alarm.
Eventually you’ll figure out that a cat moving in the forest has a very distinct sound & rhythm that can be easily discerned from that of an owl or a hawk, or any other type of animal.
This is a BIG part of the investigation process because it helps you form a responsive strategy to help you get closer & eventually see the animal with your own eyes.
Most of the bird language game is just about predicting these waves of animal movement before they happen.
Then you can quietly position yourself in the landscape so you have a clear view of where the animal is going before it gets there!
Actually doing all this simply requires developing a strong sensory memory… and the ability to store 3 dimensional snapshots of nature like a hologram in your mind.
In practical terms, here are some useful methods you can use to investigate bird alarms:
- Try To Get Closer – Notice where you suspect the alarm might be centered, then just start walking in that direction. This can sometimes produce very fast results, but it’s also very hit or miss. Most animals will hear you coming so you need to keep your awareness up and do your best to stay undetected (more on this in the next section).
- Draw Bird Language Maps – If you can map out a sequence of bird activity on a piece of paper, this will help you see the big picture. Bird language is a big picture, integrative skill… So very often, you won’t realize how multiple alarm events are connected until you see it from a bird’s eye view.
Here’s one of my own personal bird language maps. It’s not pretty, but you can see how I used colors to represent time, with little symbols to represent the movements & calls of birds.
In this case, a hawk flew through during the orange time period and I was able to correlate this event with the alarms of Stellar’s Jays, Chickadees, Robins & even Winter Wrens!
- Start A Bird Language Journal – Along with mapping things visually, you’ll get a whole different set of insights if you write out your observations in a journal. Tell the story on paper. What did you observe? What is that telling you? What are you learning? What are your theories? What are your questions? Then go gather more information! The ability to clearly articulate bird language sequences with language is a huge key for growing awareness.
- Ask Lots Of Questions – Bird language is often less about what you know, and more about the quality of your questions. What questions can you ask yourself to expand your awareness? What haven’t you considered? Keep a running list and notice which questions get you excited to look closer. Then ask yourself more questions!
- Share Your Stories – Find a partner and geek out with other bird language practitioners. You’ll learn a lot faster when you share your discoveries with someone else. You’ll also learn from their stories, observations & questions you haven’t considered yet.
Bear in mind that bird language does take time to learn.
Even with these tools, there will always be mysteries that take years to unravel… this is actually part of the joy of learning bird language!
I could tell you dozens of stories about times when it took me countless hours or even days of investigating a particular alarm sequence before I was finally able to lay eyes on the animal at the center of the disturbance.
And I can confidently tell you it’s totally worth the effort!
Bird language is a challenging skill, with deep rewards that will completely change the way you relate to the world.
In this way, bird language is an entirely new/enhanced modus operandi of perception that brings you early warning and insight beyond your normal ability to hear or see directly.
Step 5: Develop Your Stealth Skills
You’ll notice that most of the time even when you investigate alarms quite carefully, there just isn’t going to be anything there.
Potentially you mis-read an alarm message that wasn’t actually there… or in many cases it’s actually because the animals are actively evading you!
This is one of the most confusing parts of bird language to wrap your head around because you think you’re hearing something, but then it seems to disappear before you solve the mystery.
This is because animals know bird language too!
And they are typically highly invested in not being seen by you, so they learn to move quietly in the shadowy dead-spaces.
Therefore while you practice your bird language skills, it’s highly recommended that you also practice moving in a more stealthy way through nature.
Your stealth in the forest comes down to two main things:
#1 – How Quietly Can You Move In The Forest?
This is actually much less important than you might think, although it depends on how actively you try to investigate what’s happening.
Moving quietly outside starts with some very physical techniques for balancing & centering your body weight so your footsteps cause less impact and noise on the forest floor.
I shared some great ways to practice your “Stalk Walk” in my article – how to stalk animals without getting caught.
However, you’ll eventually discover that even more important than the physical techniques for quieting footsteps is the actual strategy and mindset behind how you move.
- Knowing when to go through the bushes, and when to bypass an area through easier terrain.
- Being able to analyze the forest composition to identify the places where you’ll be able to move quickly without crunching leaves.
- Even adjusting your movement patterns so any noise you do make will blend in with things like wind (this is one of the secrets to moving quickly while still being silent).
These more strategic methods for having low impact can actually make up for a lot of poor physical technique.
It simply involves studying the effects of different substrates & forest conditions in all types of weather at all times of year.
This takes practice, but you soon discover it’s quite possible to stay incredibly quiet while still moving quickly enough to keep up with the animals you’re tracking.
#2 – Pulling In Your Own Concentric Rings
The other key aspect of stealth that specifically relates to bird language is developing your ability to stop triggering alarms when you step foot outside.
There comes a point on the bird language journey when you begin to realize that humans are causing alarms too… sometimes quite big and noticeable alarms!
So if you ever notice that despite being very quiet, the animals are still somehow evading you… it’s possible that you are triggering alarms and giving away your location before you even realize what’s happening.
To reduce and eventually eliminate the disturbance you are causing, you need to practice respectful engagement with birds so you don’t scare them into alarming.
I covered a lot of the basics in my article on animal communication techniques, but here are some of the key things to keep in mind specifically relating to bird language:
Tip 1: Pay Attention To The Effect YOU Are Having On Birds.
Pay close attention to those very first moments when you step outside, and notice how the birds are responding to you.
Rather than barging out the door in a blind haze, take a moment to quiet your body & mind, then open the door very quietly and notice what happens.
- Do birds fly away from you?
- Do they make alarm calls?
- Do they sit and watch?
Pay close attention to this visual & auditory feedback because as you practice being respectful of birds, these reactions will gradually begin to change & evolve.
You want to cultivate awareness of how birds are treating you differently as you evolve on your bird language journey.
Tip 2: Respect Personal Space/Boundaries
The biggest thing to stop causing bird alarms is simply being respectful of birds and their personal boundaries.
So let’s say you notice a Robin feeding on your lawn gets immediately freaked and flies away in a tussle as soon as you walk out the door.
This bird is giving you feedback that says, “You’re too close. I’m uncomfortable, so I’m going to fly away and tell everyone there’s something happening over here.”
If you notice this behavior, then your first goal should be to stop violating that bird’s comfort zone.
You need to practice giving that bird enough space that it gradually starts to feel safe having you around.
At first this will be nearly impossible because you’ve probably been disrespecting that bird for many months or even years without realizing it.
But gradually you’ll start to get a sense for how close you can get before that bird gets uncomfortable.
Tip 3: Slow Down
With practice being respectful towards birds, you’ll notice they gradually allow you to come closer and closer without becoming alarmed.
Perhaps the easiest way to reach this level of comfort with birds is simply to start moving very slowly and predictably.
By moving slowly, you become more aware of your senses, which is key to spotting that tiny bird feeding on the shady lawn before you pressure it.
It also makes your behavior more predictable, so birds will start to feel like they know what you’re going to do, and therefore you’re not a threat.
Tip 4: Center Your Emotional State
You’ll notice that sometimes even when you move slowly, birds will still seem to be scared of you.
This is sometimes because although your body might be quite still, your mind is in a completely different state altogether.
Remember… animals & birds are incredibly sensitive. They have to be incredibly tuned with what’s happening in the mind & emotions of other animals in order to predict their intentions and stay alive.
So you’ll notice that centering & balancing your emotional state can actually increase the level of comfort in nearby birds.
Here are some quick ways to center your emotional state:
- Take time to breath slowly.
- Relax your entire body both internally & externally.
- Observe your body rhythms & allow them to settle.
- Stand or sit in a stable position & root yourself into the earth.
- Move with open presence & awareness, like a dynamic meditation.
- Stop frequently to check inside & allow your feeling of peacefulness to increase.
- Take time to focus on appreciation & gratitude whenever you step outside (and always!).
Tip 5: Move, Calibrate & Adjust
Once you have the stillness both internally and externally, now you can begin moving through the landscape.
Take a few steps, but keep your awareness open. If you let your awareness drop, you’ll miss the signs of how nearby birds are reacting to you.
Take a few steps, and notice how the birds react.
Then take a few more steps, and notice how they react again.
In this way you begin to dance with the birds. It becomes possible to move through the same space as actively feeding or singing birds without causing any disturbance in their behavior.
This is true camouflage on the level of bird language.
It’s like moving through that still pond without causing any ripples, the experience is kind of like become the water itself.
This is an ancient form of invisibility that enables you to circumvent the normal alarm system and blend in with the natural rhythms of nature.
The birds will certainly be aware of your presence, but they simply won’t alarm at you and warn others that danger is coming because they no longer perceive you as a threat.
You’ll find that if you can achieve this state of connection with nature, it becomes much easier to see shy animals in the forest.
12 Supporting Practices For Bird Language Success
- Find A Sit Spot – This is possibly the best method for cultivating the required level of sensory awareness about nature to master bird language skills. I described the process in great depth in my Complete Guide To Using A Sit Spot In Nature.
- Open Your Senses – Use exercises like the sense meditation to open your peripheral awareness system through seeing, listening & stillness activities.
- Study Animal Tracking & Behavior – The more you know about how animals move in your landscape, the easier it will be to spot the alarm sequences.
- Journal Your Stories & Experiences with birds – Journaling reinforces your learning, and leads to overall accelerated insight about bird language. If you’d like a useful nature observation template, check out my nature memory journal program.
- Practice Mapping & Surveying Your Landscape – The better you know your landscape, the easier it is to move quietly and predict how animals are moving. You want to build a 3D map in your mind so you can visualize the relationships between alarm calls moving through different parts of the environment.
- Ask Lots Of Questions – One of the most awareness-supporting things I ever did was to start a journal entirely made up of questions. Every time I thought of an interesting question, I would write it down. It wasn’t about finding answers… it was about stoking my internal sense of curiosity and desire to learn. Pay particular attention to the questions that make you go “Oooo, yeah! That’s a great question!”
- Share Your Observations With Other Bird Language Practitioners – Having a community of people who connect with nature & share their discoveries via storytelling is one of the more invisible secrets to making fast progress with bird language. It’s one of the main reasons why I created my distance learning program to support developing trackers, naturalists, mentors & bird language geeks around the world.
- Play Sneaking Games – Sneaking games are a great way to engage your survival instincts without actually putting yourself in real danger. Use blindfolds and practice stalking your friends (with their permission). Play scout versions of capture the flag. Go adventuring in the forest at night (always be smart & safe about this sort of thing).
- Develop Your Id Skills With Plants, Trees, Birds, etc. – Nature is the context for bird language. So the more you know about nature, the more connections you can make. You would be surprised how much plants can tell you about bird language.
- Practice Moving With Sensitivity – The technique is fairly simple, but it does require practice to walk silently in the woods. Start in easy terrain and gradually get more challenging.
- Come back to this guide regularly – This will help you deepen and reinforce your understanding of the core bird language concepts!
- **Optional** Join my online bird language course and let me guide you deeper into this amazing wildlife skill!