Eating right out of your hand
Get an up-close look at your backyard birds with a little training in hand-feeding.
Of all the birding firsts you’ll experience, the one you’ll never forget is the moment a bird eats out of your hand. Since the event is usually the result of a lot of patience in getting the birds to trust you, it’s very rewarding when it happens.
Winter is usually the best time to attempt hand-feeding because natural food sources are scarce and birds are hungry. Be sure to bundle up in neutral-colored clothes and find a quiet location, like your own backyard or a hiking trail.
Ready to give it a try? Here are three ways in which bird-watchers have been successful in feeding birds by hand. But a word of warning: The birds might expect you to feed them by hand every time you go outside!
Method 1: Become a Human Bird Feeder
My sister has a lot of hummingbirds at her feeders, so one day we stood still nearby with the nectar in our hands. Hummingbirds flew around me immediately, and in about 20 minutes they sat on my hand and drank. It was amazing! –Cynthia Lantz, via Facebook
This is the easiest way to try hand-feeding—but it usually takes a little time for the birds to feel comfortable enough around you to eat from your hand.
Here’s how: At the same time every day, preferably in the early morning, go outside to fill your feeders. Then stand or sit very still nearby—about 10 to 20 feet away—with birdseed in your hand (or on your hat or shoulder if your arm gets tired). Do this every day for a few days or weeks, each day getting closer to the feeder. Eventually, the birds will get used to you and eat right out of your hand. Or, remove the seed from your feeders and sit still with seed in your hand. The birds just might eat right out of your hand.
Method 2: Enlist a “Buddy”
To prepare birds to feed out of our visitors’ hands, we put out a wooden dummy early in winter, fully attired to resemble a person. The birds get so accustomed to eating from it that they think all people are a source of food. –Sharon Hosko, Manager of Brecksville Nature Center in Ohio
If you’re short on time and patience, have a dummy do the dirty work. Maybe you’ve seen these faux birders in gardens or nature centers. It may be bizarre to see a lifelike dummy sitting in your backyard, but it works!
Here’s how: Either buy or craft your own look-alike out of weather-resistant materials. It can be as simple as a lawn chair with a “head” and “hand” attached. The key is to make it look as human as possible. Dress it up in a neutral-colored shirt and hat from your closet and put birdseed in its outstretched hand.
When your double is ready, place it about 20 feet from your feeders. Each day, move it about a foot closer to the feeders as the birds get accustomed to it. When the birds are feeding from your dummy regularly, it’s time to make your appearance. Take down your feeders, dress like your dummy, stand or sit perfectly still in the same place the dummy was with seed in your hand, and wait for the birds.
Method 3: Wait Until the Perfect Time
One harsh, cold winter in Minnesota, we were able to hand-feed the chickadees near our feeders. They were so hungry that they were happy to get food any way they could! –Linda Payfer Munson, Via Facebook
After a snowstorm, birds are usually desperate for food. Even if they are wary, they will eat out of your hand if that’s the only way food is offered to them.
Here’s how: On an extremely cold winter day, preferably after a snowstorm, take your feeders down. Then go outside where your feeders were and hold seed in your hand. The birds will probably be so hungry they’ll land right in your hand to eat.
Some of the more friendly species easiest to rain to eat out of your hand are:
- Common redpolls
- Downy woodpeckers
- Evening grosbeaks
- Tufted titmice