Hand Feeding Wild Birds


It is such a delight when a Chickadee trusts you enough to land on your hand to take seed. They are so light, like they are not even there. If you never did this, read on…


Two things necessary to getting them to take such a chance, is getting them to accept you in their space and for you to stay very still. Trust happens from both.


The best time to do this is when snow is on the ground or when a storm is looming. Birds go bonkers when it is snowing, especially at the feeders. I hand-feed in the morning before filling the feeders for the day. Try it with Downy Woodpeckers too. I am often within inches of them at their feeders.

The birds have come to know me in the garden, so getting them to land on my hand was a piece of cake. Getting them to do it in the wild is for one to have real patience.


Either place, talk to them softly. Once they are accustomed, put food in your hand and offer it very still. They come because they are hungry, not because they like you, but it still is nice to know they can trust you.

Even though it will make you smile when they come in close, try not to. Birds look at our facial expressions for cues, and showing them your teeth, swallowing or opening your mouth can make them fearful like we are having them for dinner. I think talking to them or making birds calls is different in that they may view us as contented.


A bird may approach fearfully, but stay very still and hold your breath as long as you can. They eventually will trust you enough to grab some seed.


Titmice and chickadees are the easiest to hand feed because of their curiosity.  Also, the Mourning Doves are an easy species to offer seed.

These birds are those I photograph at the Falls. They are very used to me feeding them for my photos, even following me up the wooded path back to my Jeep. It did take a while to get them acclimated to my presence though. Patience… not my strong suit.

Next bird post… What Scatters the Songbirds?  A cute look at what happens in the garden.


And YES NEW … four NEW pages of bird posts, starting with Bird Chirps – Bird of the Week. Under this tab in the menu above you will find drop down tabs to these pages having all the bird posts from 2013, 2012 and 2011.  So many birds and so much to say about them.

Your interests are GARDENS

Well a tab for Public Gardens and Garden Walks should whet your appetite in these cold months of winter as you tour local gardens from the National Garden Festival participants. The drop down of Public Gardens takes you to beautiful famous gardens around this country. Take a stroll, you will get more ideas than you can ever imagine. Drop down again and we have Fling Gardens. Gardens, gardens and more gardens…

About Garden Walk Garden Talk

I love to photograph, paint, draw, design, garden, travel the world, and pass on a few tips and ideas that I learned through experience as a Master Gardener and architect. I am highly trained in my field and enjoy my work each and every day. I garden in Niagara Falls, NY in zone 6-B. Find me at: http://gardenwalkgardentalk.com
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62 Responses to Hand Feeding Wild Birds

  1. paxami says:

    Why should I be surprised that the Pied Piper of Birds has them eating out of her hand. Easy for you, you talk bird just like Willie Shoemaker talked horse. Trying not to smile, but I am.

    • Funny you brought up horses, my favorite animal. I had horses most of my life, showing, breaking, training and even racing for a short time. I related to them like the “Horse Whisperer”, with a greater sensitivity than any other animal in my life besides maybe dogs. I have no “gift” with cats though. Having two, I have the attitude of cats myself! Take it or leave it cats…

    • ;pied piper of birds’ – i loved your comment and agree! this was an enchanting post!

  2. bittster says:

    Nice changes on your website, the new tabs are nice! I wish I had been as productive over my own holiday break.
    We used to visit a park with hand tamed birds, it was always a great experience to have them seek you out and give you the once over for seeds. It dose take a lot of patience to build that trust with a brand new group of birds.

    • The tabs will make it easier for readers that come here for different reasons. I know many of my readers are not gardeners, yet I visit so many gardens that it makes sense to have them in one place. I still have many to add too. I may also do a plant profile tab although I always stress that when discussing plants, it is best to do that with growers or the Cooperative Extension office in your area. Conditions vary, even miles away and many just go on the zones printed on tags when purchasing plants. Too general. I have a post coming up on a type of landscaping called Conservation Landscaping. Working locally is the most important factor in this type of landscaping. It is a philosophy in a way too.

      • bittster says:

        Those are some good points and I think you’re right that it will be helpful to many readers. I like plant tabs too, but unless they are a listing of your favorites, or tried and true, or best for wildlife, I think it can become either overwhelming or just inadequate.
        The garden visit tabs are just in time for those cold evenings when I really look forward to virtual visits and memories of warmer weather… I had a problem earlier getting in, but I’m sure it was just the slow connection on my end and will check back later.

        • Boy I hope it was your connection. I have so many small thumbnail sized images on those pages, I hope that is not the reason for the loading slowly. Otherwise, I will have to break them up by years too like I did for bird posts. Glad you mentioned load time, I will have to make sure it is not at my end. Why I did it this way was people can pick a post by the small photo if it is a garden that might interest them.

  3. Donna this is such a cool post I really enjoy your blog… great photos and I learn a lot. Thank you!
    Happy new year , rob

    • Happy New Year to you too, Rob. As a nature photographer, I thought you might frown on conditioning the birds to hand. I always wrestle with this, but actually they came to me first while I was outside holding the container of food. Then at the Falls near my feeding spot, they started coming in my Jeep for the food on the seat. Once they were that brave, the next step was easy. The place in the woods took the longest to get them to come to me. There is a thicket in the woods where the birds follow me and it was too easy in a new location for them to be fearful. The thicket was such a pull to them for safety. Eventually, I got that group of birds to come out too.

  4. lundygirl says:

    Thank you for the great tips. I will be trying this in our garden.

    • Just be patient. I will take time until the first chickadee arrives. The doves are always at foot, but they only ever flew to the hand one time. I have even petted them while at the feeder.

      • lundygirl says:

        We have different birds here – I think I may, if I’m very patient have some success with our British Robin. They are very bold birds but quite territorial. I shall have to be patient as you say and see what happens.

  5. Denise says:

    But how do you photograph them with only one hand?

    • I have tried but can’t do it. I had a “stand-in, like in the movies”! 😀 Really it is a friend that kindly stood and waited. I was 20 feet away with the camera since she is less “known” to these birds. I did not want to scare them from going to her.

  6. mazza18467 says:

    what a delight, to be trusted like that.

  7. pepaulmier says:

    Love those chickadees, they are wonderful and so friendly.

  8. Feeding chickadees by hand — how lovely! I just did a bird posting, but of course I can’t beat your photography. Happy New Year, Donna. P. x

  9. I would lovelovelove to have a wild bird land on my hand so I could feed it. I’ve had birds land on me in Venice and at exotic bird atriums, but it seems more real for a wild bird to make that choice as opposed to one accustomed to handouts. Very cool photos!! 🙂

  10. alesiablogs says:

    SO very cool! Nice also how you are making your blog page more efficient for different readers who come to your page for various hobbies or interests. I am inspired and may look at cleaning up my page into various topics…My page is so different that I am not sure how I will do it. I have it broken down some , but really need to revamp.

    • I am trying because my readers are so varied. It is almost like I need two separate blogs, which I have, but the other one really never took off because I used it for overflow mostly. The posts were different, but the topics the same. Garden Walks are different on the other blog.

  11. These photos are great! We have a bird santuary by us where they will eat out of your hand but they are still a bit afraid. I LOVE these images. I also like the new tabs with the different categories on top of your page-excellent for finding certain topics. Nice! 🙂

    • I know places that house birds are good places to try this if they allow it. Those birds are really tamed to humans. I have been working on the tabs for a while gathering up the posts. I just made it really simple, nothing fancy. Easy to find…

  12. starrystez says:

    Beautiful – thanks for the tips.

  13. Pingback: Mingling with the Birds | Zeebra Designs & Destinations

  14. janechese says:

    I love that feeling of lightness as they land on my hand. Once when I was feeding chickadees, a Red-breasted nuthatch landed in my hand as well. What a thrill, and that was really light. Happened one time only, hoping for more.

  15. So now I know my mistake… as soon as they approached I smiled or sighed! 🙂
    As I mentioned at Lisa’s place, you are the perfect coach!! 🙂

    • Most people do smile or laugh when a bird goes to hand. Kids are especially jovial when a bird comes to them, but they are less intimidating too. I learned to not show expression from my bird watching friends. I have learned so much from them.

  16. How lovely! I’ve never tried it, and I guess I always thought it was discouraged because the birds get too tame? I would love to try it, though! And as I’ve mentioned, chickadees are favorites. Beautiful post, Donna!

    • I am not sure what the word is on taming the birds. I often see a group of bird watchers I know doing this and they are very careful on how we act in a bird’s environment. Like I said in another comment, these birds came to me first.

  17. I wondered how you photographed the birds one-handed, too. Great photos!

  18. Lugar and Company says:

    Ah, your patience! Love the photos and thoughts! Thank you for sharing!

  19. Wow, I’m impressed. Blessings, Natalie 🙂

  20. Have I missed it, have you published your posts into book format. I read your posts for the wonderful tips, a book that I could use as a reference for garden design or birding would be amazing. If you have published let me know where your books are available.

    • No book! I would not mind book design, but as a writer… not happening. I am the first to say I am not a writer, just like I say I am not a photographer. There are pros in both fields and I stay out of their arena for the most part. I fulfill requests for photographs, but never go out and look for work in these fields where I am not trained over decades. I approach photography tips from the perspective for a person just learning. I link to those making a living at it. It is similar to landscape design, everybody does it, but most should not be doling out advice, unless it is something they are very competent doing. My issue is those “designing” that shouldn’t having no training in site design to deal with drainage, tree placement, building orientation to weather and sun and plants etc.,etc.

  21. I have honestly never tried doing this…just assumed they would fly away! I take photos of them about 15 ft away on my deck…but haven’t attempted just standing out there with seed and waiting. You make it look so effortless, but I am sure it took a bit of time! Not sure I have the patience, personally…! BUT I loved your photos. Fantastic 🙂

  22. franzisofie says:

    How cool! I think this is nearly the same bird I’ve catched 🙂 That photo looks amazing!

  23. Julie says:

    Your calm patience was rewarded well, how wonderful to interact so closely. Great photos as always.

  24. A.M.B. says:

    I’m excited about the new tabs! I’m amazed that you were able to get birds to eat out of your hand and then also take pictures of them. Great photos!

  25. Wonderful shots! I especially love the ones where the bird is looking you over. Maybe I missed it, but how DID you take these photos? I see comments you made where you say you couldn’t manage the tripod and timer or remote shutter. Was a friend there with you? Clearly, you have a wonderful way with these birds. What a joy!

    • Yes. I had a friend stand in. She held her hand so still. I know, a couple of times the birds were looking at me because I am the one usually offering the food, plus I had the food bag in my pocket too. It was confusing to them at first. They are very used to my camera, but I still stood 20 feet away.

  26. The chickadees and the downy woodpeckers are very tame, they let me get quite close in the garden, but I have never had them eat out of my hand. Actually, chickadees have been kind of scarce this year. We don’t get titmice, though, but there are lots of mourning doves. I’m thinking I’ll give feeding them out of my hand a try, though Judy seems to think it is unsanitary.

  27. Thank you for this post, really interesting. Will definitely follow for your next post 🙂 Love the photographs, will have to try some of your ideas 🙂

  28. After a long hiatus in blogs, I am back. I want to wish you a very happy new year filled with enthusiasm, health, joy and …..!!

  29. bluebrightly says:

    Lovely post! Really wonderful photos fro showing the feeling of the quick life these little guys embody. I’ve tamed chickadees too – nothing matches the feeling of that wild body touching your hand, the fierce look in the eyes, the electricity of their nervous systems, which seem so revved up compared to ours. Happy New Year & keep warm and wild!

  30. Fossillady says:

    That is so cool Donna, patience is not my strong suit either, but looking at the possibilities judging from your lovely photos inspires me to try it! Hope you have a wonderful happy 2014! :O)

  31. erupprecht says:

    You’ve inspired me!!! We just got 8-9 inches of snow yesterday, so it’s probably the perfect time to try hand-feeding. (Even if that doesn’t work out, at least I should put out the bird seed.) It was 5 degrees last night and might get even colder later in the week. So I’m sure the birds will appreciate it. Thanks for the excellent insights and beautiful photos. Stay warm.

    • Do try feeding them by hand. It will take time for them to trust you, but eventually they will give it a go. At the Falls, I put food on the ground and the birds still come to my hand for it. That is what really amazes me because they have the choice to avoid me all together.

  32. How delightful! C’mon, Donna, it’s easy for you to hand-feed because you’re a “bird whisperer.” 🙂 The most frequent visitors to my feeder are the chickadees, so I might have to make their acquaintance.

  33. I would love to try this as we have so many visitors…and i had no idea they were afraid of our teeth although it makes perfect sense.

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