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Hand-feeding wild birds: Q&A with Jeff Jones

Jeff Jones hand-feeding a titmouse.

If feeding birds from a feeder is calming and relaxing, then feeding wild birds from your hand is zen.

For those who have experienced that sensation of a little bird landing on your arm and literally eating out of the palm of your hand, the feeling of being at one with birds and nature is at its highest.

However, the common assumption about hand-feeding wild birds is that it is difficult and takes far too long to achieve.

So, to learn more about it, I sought out someone who’s had success in hand-feeding birds: Jeff Jones. Jeff runs the great birding blog BirdOculars and wrote a post about how to hand feed wild birds quickly a while back.

Basically, you take down all your feeders, get some hulled peanuts, sit very still outside each day for about a half hour while sitting closer to the main feeder station every day. Eventually, a curious bird will become used to you and eat from your hand. For more details about how to do it, head to Jeff’s post or check out Hugh Wiberg’s book Hand-Feeding Backyard Birds: A Step-By-Step Guide.

Here’s my Q&A with Jeff Jones from BirdOculars.

What inspired you to learn how to hand-feed wild birds?

I’ve studied the behaviors of all of my backyard birds and enjoy their individual as well as species-level personalities. I just wanted to see if I could share something special with them.

Following the instructions you laid out on your site, how long did it take to get the first bird in your hand?

The first time I hand fed a bird I was working directly with the Wiberg method, which uses a little progress each weekend during the winter. It took me about a month before my first chickadee landed and took a seed.

Did you come up with the expedited method yourself or was it straight from Hugh Wiberg’s book?

The method I used for that post was my adaptation of methods including Wiberg’s. I just didn’t believe it had to take that long and I was correct. I give full credit to Hugh Wiberg for teaching me a framework to experiment with.

For those interested, you can learn a little about this extraordinary man who is no longer with us by reading this.

What’s it like to feed birds in your hand?

It’s a very special feeling of connectedness with your backyard visitors. I know that sounds corny, but it is true. You’ll never feel more a part of their world than when you get them to feed from your hand.

What species of birds does the method you outlined on your blog work with?

The particular species for that blog post was focused on a titmouse. However, the titmouse is not the only bird it will work with.

Have you had any luck with other species besides the titmouse?

Titmice and chickadees are the easiest, I believe, to get to hand feed. I think this is mainly because they are so curious and bolder than other species. Again, Hugh Wiberg’s book gives a very detailed listing of which birds are the most and least likely to hand feed.

Will the method you laid out work in spring and summer, or is it a fall and winter technique?

The winter is the best time, but I tell birders to give it a shot anytime. You never know until you try. If you don’t have success with my method the first time, I would try it again at least two other times before deciding to take a longer approach to it.

What’s the most difficult part of learning to feed birds from your hand?

Patience and learning to stand stock-still.

What’s the number one piece of advice you’d give to someone trying to do this for the first time?

Make sure you take down the feeders when you do this and have your target bird’s favorite food in hand.

Anything else worth mentioning you want to add?

Learn to use your hunches. If while you are trying to hand feed a titmouse you see a very curious woodpecker, shift your focus and see if you can’t entice it as well. You’ll learn the more you do this that birds will give you clues as to whether they’ll hand feed or not.

Beyond that, have fun and enjoy your time outside being still and interacting with your backyard buddies!

Timothy Martinez Jr. is a writer and freelance journalist. His work has been published in The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, Remapping Debate in New York City and other publications. He’s been a bird lover since he was young and currently lives in New Orleans, L.A.

2 Comments

  1. would it be easier to sit at a picknick table getting closer each day to the feeder until you get real close then taket it down the next week using your hand?

  2. why can’t you use sunflower seeds?

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