Have you ever seen those jaw-dropping videos of a hand holding a tiny sugar-water feeder and brightly colored hummingbirds swarming around to take a drink? Well, in some of those videos, that hand is mine! I’ve had hummingbirds perch on my fingertips, arms, shoulders, and even my toes! I’m about 99.9% sure this is what it feels like to be a Disney Princess. There’s really no faster way to experience some hummingbird magic than to hand-feed one of these tiny flying rainbows. The good news is that it’s easy to learn how to do! All it takes is a little bit of time, patience, and a couple of tools. Here are a few tips that worked for me when I first started to hand-feed hummingbirds.
1. Buy a Closed-Top Hand-Feeder
I bought mine from hum-fi.com, but Amazon and other online vendors are also great resources. The closed top is important because it prevents any sugar-water form accidentally getting on feathers. Sugar-water on feathers can make it difficult or even impossible for the bird to fly, and it will prevent the hummingbird from being able to fluff up its feathers to enter torpor. (Torpor is a sleep-like state that birds need to enter to stay warm overnight and not starve to death.) Mix 1 part white table sugar with 4 parts hot water. Allow to cool to room temperature, then fill your feeders with it. (Read more: Hummingbird Sugar Water 101)
2. Set the Scene
Grab a large hummingbird feeder and a tiny handheld one, then head outside. Set everything down on a table in your yard or on your patio. Sit next to the table and wait, calmly and quietly. Channel your inner tree! (Don’t move and don’t speak.) After you’ve spent at least 20 minutes sitting next to the feeders, put the large feeder back up and bring the little feeder inside. Repeat each day for as long as it takes to get the birds to visit the feeders while you are sitting there.
3. Be Extremely Cautious with Outdoor Pets
Please keep your indoor/outdoor pets inside while you’re hand-feeding. Hunting is instinctual for dogs and cats, so they will do what’s natural to them. Your furry friends may not necessarily intend to harm your backyard hummingbirds, but they will definitely chase and try to catch them. If you truly want to make hummingbird safety your top priority, you may want to completely refrain from encouraging your hummingbirds to hand-feed.
(Read more: 5 Ways to Create a Bird-Safe Backyard)
4. Earn Their Trust
Once they trust you enough that they will come to sit and drink while you’re sitting next to the large feeder, pick up a handheld feeder and lay your arm across the table close to the large feeder. Again, channel your inner tree by keeping perfectly still and quiet. You basically want to them to see you as a harmless, gigantic, never-emptying flower. And flowers don’t talk or make sudden movements! Over time, the hummingbirds will get closer and closer until finally they’re feeding from the feeder in your hand. And if you’re really lucky, one may perch on your finger!
Some hand-feeder companies suggest taking your large feeder down, covering it with a towel, and only offering the birds the hand-feeder. Personally, I don’t like to stress out my birds, so I always offer them a choice between drinking from my hand-feeder or from the large feeder. But if you really can’t wait to hand-feeder and are losing sleep over it, feel free to try covering the large feeder the first couple of times. Just keep in mind that you don’t get to claim the title of “hummingbird whisperer” until the birds choose your hand-feeder over the large one!
(Read more: How to Start Hand-Feeding Hummingbirds)