Sshhh! You’ll scare the birds.
Almost without thinking about it, we adopt “stealth mode” when we start out on a trail to see new birds. We start to speak in whispers and we avoid unnecessary noise. But many (perhaps most) of the birders we meet in our travels are slow to catch on to our example. We find that birders in general, even some of the best ones we have met, are too noisy in the wild.
Birds have an acute sense of hearing and sound is a very important part of their everyday lives. They will hear you coming long before you will see them. It pays to reduce your noise level if you want to have the best chance of seeing most birds in forest and brushy habitats.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. Pishing is the most obvious one. Many birds will react to pishing sounds in an attempt to locate what they think is a bird in distress or a bird mobbing a predator. Once they pop up for a look, they are not likely to respond again to the same sounds, so you’d better be fast to get your own look.
Another exception is imitations of owl calls. The best imitations, especially of the smaller, bird-predator owls, will often attract a host of small birds trying to locate the potential threat. Michael’s favorite imitations are of the pygmy-owls and the saw-whet owl, in appropriate habitats. These are fairly easy to imitate with only the voice, so you don’t have to fumble with a tape player. But use owl call imitations sparingly. Too much tooting will likely scare more birds than it attracts and it might upset the real owls themselves.