How to Start Hand-Feeding Hummingbirds

Experience the thrill of tiny bird feed perched on your finger.

There are plenty of videos online of lucky people hand-feeding hummingbirds. It’s incredible to watch, but if you’ve always yearned for the excitement of seeing delicate hummingbirds up close, here’s how you can do it, too.

Be Part of The Scene.

The easiest way to get close to the action is to be in the middle of it. Study the traffic at your hummingbird feeder and find out when it’s busiest (usually after dawn and before dusk). If you have multiple nectar feeders, remove all but one. Then, put a bench or lawn chair beside the feeder and sit as still as possible. Do this often enough and eventually your presence will
be accepted and ignored.

Use Your Hand as a Perch.

Patience is required here, but this is really where things can get exciting. Hold the feeder in your lap and extend a finger as a perch. Stay as motionless as you can, and eventually, you might feel a hummingbird settle on your outstretched finger. Wait until no hummingbirds are present before you remove your hand.

Buy or Make a Hand Feeder.

Feeder designers know how beloved hummingbirds are, and that is why they created feeders that fit into your hand. Inexpensive miniature hand feeders can be purchased online or at local bird supply stores and work like a charm. You also can make one from a vial, a narrow glass jar or other small container. Wrap red ribbon around the top of a homemade feeder, then attach a plastic feeder “flower” to the top of your vial or bottle. Hummingbirds use those clues to know where to insert their bills. 

(Instructions to make a hand feeder here: Make a Hand-Held Feeder.)

Try the Bait-and-Switch Technique.

It’s easy enough to hold your hand feeder beside the usual nectar feeder. To speed things up, especially in ruby-throated hummingbird regions, remove the usual feeder when no hummingbirds are present, and hold out your hand feeder in its place. Prop your arm on a deck railing or the back of a chair, so you can wait comfortably. And if your feet get itchy, stroll around your yard with the hand feeder, and when you see a hummingbird at a flower, hold out the feeder!

Bonus! Trouble-Shooting Tips

  • Use a 1:3 ratio (1 part sugar to 3 parts water) to make your handheld feeder extra appealing from the first taste. Once the birds are accustomed to it, go back to the typical 1:4.
  • Fill the hand feeder to the brim, so that hummingbirds get a payoff as soon as they dip in their beaks.
  • Hand-feed ruby-throated hummingbirds at the same time every day and when their numbers are at their highest; spring and fall migration is your best opportunity.

A Reader’s Close Encounter with a Hummingbird

Lorraine Hoffman (B&B reader)

Last summer, I started spending 15 minutes each day standing as motionless as possible next to my hummingbird feeder. My daily visitors quickly got used to my presence. One hummingbird was bold enough to buzz around my head so close I could feel the wind against my hair.

My brother-in-law gave me a handheld feeder for my birthday, and within five minutes a hummingbird was eating out of my hand! The hummingbird moved back and forth between the feeders, seemingly in no hurry to leave. This is one birding experience that will stay with me for many years to come.

Lorraine Hoffman Greensburg, Pennsylvania

 

Sally Roth
Sally Roth gardens in desertlike conditions in the High Rockies but she can't resist plants with colorful foliage, like coleus.