While filling the bird feeders recently, I observed the ferocity and noise quotient of the hundred or so finches in my immediate environment. Their significant numbers have put off the chickadees and nuthatches that often patrol the area.

The scene was free for the taking – the birds on the feeders spewing out seeds and their pals graciously taking in the spills and then scattering briefly during rushes from the red squirrel family.

I pondered the “free” part, as I recall paying for the sunflower seeds.

I often receive advertisements in the mail offering “free hearing tests.” These mailings have always ruffled my feathers. I’ve always believed that there is nothing in this world that is free.

Someone has paid for it previously, or someone will pay for it down the road to enable the solicitor to offer the service for free.

In the old days, the person getting the service almost always paid for hearing tests by audiologists. I remember stories told of traveling hearing-aid salespeople who would offer a free Bible to get their foot in the door and initiate a sales process.

Often the person tested purchased a product that was ill fitting, of poor quality, and generally of limited benefit. Promises by the vendor were not kept.

Legislation by all the states now prevents some of this malpractice because all agents selling medical devices are now licensed and schooled to use protocols, but in my opinion, it is still buyer beware. These days the lines have become intentionally blurred.

Audiologists, audioprostologists, otometrists (whoever they are), hearing instrument specialists and hearing-aid salespeople – all might be licensed by the state but have varying amounts of education hidden in the acronyms behind their surnames.

If unsure, it is always good to ask. What does this “MA” or “MD” behind your name mean? What are your credentials, and where did you get them to enable you to do what you do?

Asking for information about price is also very important. Today’s pricing structure is often bundled (which I don’t like). Bundled means all-inclusive, however “everything” is not always covered (things might be left out of the mix).

Guarantees and warranties need to be spelled out. The length of time the product is under warranty is essential, and it should be spelled out, so you might need to read the fine print. The cost of the free test that you received is hidden in the price of the device.

One way to get a better shake on the better hearing process is to consult your health practitioner or a very wise and tested friend who wears devices successfully, or to hire a hearing and listening coach.

People who sell-dispense any product are always more careful when third parties are involved. Ask for a report for yourself and a second one for your health practitioner.

Birds are excellent listeners because they are able to regenerate auditory cells once lost. And it’s free as a bird.

Joe Henne is a licensed audiologist who spends summer and fall on Drummond Island, Mich., and winters on Hilton Head Island.