How to Hand-Feed Birds

Finally! Learn how to hand-feed birds.

There is nothing more delightful than having a wild bird land on your hand. It’s unbelievable how light a chickadee is—they feel like a puff of air. And just being so close to a wild bird and having it trust you that much is wonderful!

If you’ve never had the opportunity to hand-feed your wild birds, maybe now is the time to try. There are a number of ways you can get the birds used to you. The real trick is having a lot of patience and being able to stay perfectly still.

One method is to make a dummy of sorts that resembles a human—preferably you! Put a jacket and hat on it that you will wear later, and sit it in a lawn chair near your feeders. It doesn’t have to be a work of art. Even just a wire frame to support the clothes will work. Stuff a glove with something and attach it (palm up) to the chair’s arm and then fill the palm with seeds. After a while the birds will begin to use the glove as a feeder. When that happens, simply substitute yourself in the jacket, hat and glove and soon you’ll have the birds landing on the glove just as they did with the dummy. After a while you can take the glove off so you can actually feel the birds’ tiny feet when they land.

Another way to hand-feed birds, which worked for me, is to try it when it’s snowing. Birds seem to go into a feeding frenzy when it’s snowing. While they’re flocking to your feeders, simply stand near them with your hand held out and full of seeds. Stay extremely still! It does take patience, but eventually you may get a bird to briefly land. The more often you stand by your feeders in this way, the more the birds will get used to you.

Other people have had great success hand feeding the birds by using a window feeder as a helper. With the window feeder full of seeds, simply put your hand out the window next to the feeder. The birds will hardly distinguish between your hand and the feeder. Plus you have the advantage of being in a more comfortable environment and behind the window where the birds are less likely to be frightened by your presence.

Whatever method you use, if you have the time and patience, the experience of having a wild bird land on your hand to eat or take a seed is something you will never forget. Happy Birding!

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  • Philip Beron January 21, 2011 at 12:47 pm

    Before Hurricane Katrina in 2005, I had a tall pine tree in my smallish
    yard and had the pleasure of watching cardinals eat from 2 feeders. As our home flooded, we moved a half away and since then, we have not seen any cardinals. We do not have a large tree, just one wild tree that sheds all leaves in winter. Is that my problem? We were very close to Lake Pontchartrain in the former home. Would love to attract them

  • Brigitte Peck Ki Laou January 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm

    I am from Canada Montreal and there are several parcs where we can feed the chickadees by hand. I go to feed them often in winter. The chickadees just land on my hand naturally. On the other hand, my backyard chickadees refuse to feed on my hand because they are used to feed with their feeders.

  • Jamie Trouskie January 25, 2011 at 5:28 pm

    I always wanted to try to feed black-capped chickadees from my hand and I have succeeded. I do this at my parents house. The chickadees have been really getting used to me and on 1/25/2011 in the morning at my parents house the chickadees were really coming to my hand like crazy. Try 7 or 8 times in about a matter of minutes and in one day. Two were fighting over my hand for food too. One came to my hand they another one wanted to come and the two birds got in to a fight right in front of my face and over my head. It was an awesome experience!

  • Duncraft January 27, 2011 at 8:55 am

    Hi Philip and Jamie,
    Philip, not sure what the problem might be with your cardinals. I wish I had an answer. I guess it depends on what types of wild foods they are or aren’t finding in your area.
    And Jamie, hand feeding birds IS awesome! Thanks for relating your experience!

  • Tena February 5, 2011 at 2:32 pm

    I bought two of the covered suet feeders, bought the suet and hung them at an appropriate height…….not one single bird has gone near either feeder! Any suggestion on what I’ve done wrong. They eat me out of house and home, eating the bird seed they I continually supply, but no takers on my suet…..Help!

  • Louis King February 12, 2011 at 6:18 am

    Tena. If you’ve had the suet out more than a week, I’d suggest changing it. I use one that’s got peanut butter in it and can hardly keep it out. Another is insect suet. Try one of these and see what happens. Lou Lowell, Mich.

  • Irina February 12, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    Tena, when I first started putting suet out for the birds, there were no takers. After weeks of the suet being out with the other feeders, eventually the birds started to visit for suet. It does attract birds that may not already be coming to your yard, and that process takes time. Hang in there!

  • Drew Graham February 13, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    We have about a dozen feeders and about the same number of bird houses in our yard. Yuor heated birdbath makes for a natural attraction in the winter. I would say there is a lot of activity, except when one of our visiting red tail hawks comes around. The birds disappear until he/she goes away and life returns back to normal.

  • barbara November 15, 2011 at 11:13 am

    We had a Palm Warbler that came to our deck year after year and ate out of our hand. If we weren’t right there he would knock on the sliding glass door with his bill. It was hysterical. He ate out of everyone’s hand that came to visit although his babies were afraid of us. Someone must have taught him. We also have blue birds (we feed them live worms all year around) that come to our deck also and beg for worms. They don’t appear to be afraid of us but it is very rare to get one to land on our hand. It is awesome.

  • DeadlyTeaParty November 16, 2012 at 1:57 pm

    I’m from the UK and I’d hand feed wild birds at my local part. The main ones that would come to me are great tits. But I’ve had the odd blue tit come to me as well!

  • coconutbird1 December 14, 2012 at 3:22 pm

    Im not allowed to do this because we have 2 cats and a dog and birds almost never come to our garden. Still like reading about this, though.

  • luke August 18, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    I think it is amazing that you can hand feed wild birds from your own garden and i would love to as well but I very rarely get a bird in my garden because of the douzen of cats that hang around my home and I would love to hand feed the birds but I am afraid of that one of the cats will eat them what should I do!

    • Heidi Babb November 3, 2014 at 12:32 pm

      Thank you for the great question. The first step would be attract the birds to your yard in a safe way. Outdoor cats can be deadly to bird populations, but there are a few steps you can take to make feeders safer for your birds. Place your feeders where they are 10-12 feet from hiding places where the cats can hunt from. You will want to hang you feeders as high as you can, from a pole that’s too slippery for cats to climb, or add a squirrel baffle to the pole so the cats can’t climb up the pole. Choose birdfeeders with trays, so excess food doesn’t drop to the ground to attract ground feeding birds that would be easy prey for the cats. A caged feeder would give added protection. My best recommendation would be the Super Tall Decorative Trio Hanger (item #2621) with feeders like the Duncraft Metal Selective. Once you have birds coming into your yard, you can start trying to hand feed them, which will be so much fun! Please give us a call, and we’ll be happy to help you with any questions you might have. Our friendly, knowledgeable customer service team is available Monday – Friday from 8:30 am-5:00 pm ET at 1-800-763-7878.