At some point everyone who sets up bird feeding stations wants to know if it’s possible to hand feed their little visitors. They build a bond with them and desire a more personal connection. The good news is that it is possible to do. Depending on which approach you take you may even be able to feed them the first day you try. Let’s take a look at a couple of these.
When I first got the bug to hand feed birds I did like many of you will do-I searched on the internet. Luckily, I found a great book by Hugh Wiberg called Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds: A Step-By-Step Guide which covered the basics and sparked my interest. It gave me a realistic look at what’s involved and helped me decide if it was really for me.
If you want to hand feed birds in your back yard you’ll have to first realize the best time to do it is early in the morning at the time of year they need it the most. That’s right, the dead of winter. The author’s method involves gradually making yourself visible by sitting still nearer and nearer to your feeder. If you have many stations you’ll have to take them down while you’re doing this. You can just place them on the ground and cover them. Otherwise, the birds will just go to the other feeders. His book details the program to do this but it’s not complicated or hard. Eventually, you replace your feeder with your outstretched hands and wait for the fun to begin. Trust me-if you’re patient it WILL happen.
I tried this approach a year ago and I had some success. I would have been more successful had I spent more time letting the birds get used to me. I went out approximately 3 mornings per week. You only need to go out for a half hour or less but it is important that you get out when they have started feeding. In most cases this will be right around sunrise. Right after a snow or sharp drop in temperatures is the best time. It’s also a good idea to include feed not normally found at your feeders with your main feed. Various nut pieces work well for this. I was able to get a chickadee and a titmouse to land and feed quickly. The toughest part for me was having a bird land on my hand and not jumping.
In case you’re wondering this can be accomplished if you only do it on weekends. It just takes more time to get them used to you. The cool part is that once you get a few to trust you many of the others will follow suit. Also, a select few will then be looking for you to give them a little something all year round. The author tells of always carrying a few seeds with him when he’s in his yard because he never knows who is going to come asking for a treat.
The other method I spoke of is always taking some seeds with you when you are hiking in the woods. Especially where there may not be a lot of humans walking around. Again, early in the morning right after a snow or drop in temps is best. You can start out sitting down and scattering seeds about 10 feet away from you and see if anything comes to feed. If they do, gradually decrease the distance you throw the seeds each visit until you’re just holding them in your hand. I mention this method last because you have the least control over the situation. That’s not to say it’s the least successful. If you Google hand feeding birds you’ll see tons of pictures of people obviously hiking and successfully feeding birds.
It’s important to note with either method if you get to a point where the birds are not even coming around you need to back off to the previous location and spend more time there. Then move closer again. At the same time, if you have immediate success at any distance, by all means go right to offering them from your hand to see if there are any takers.
So why don’t you give it a try this winter? Believe me-the time you spend doing this will help you hear and see things about your back yard birds that you would otherwise never experience. I’m going to try again this winter to see if I can stop twitching when I’m blind-sided by a chickadee.
Oh and did I mention that your neighbors will think you’re insane? What things we birders have to endure!