How To Get Wild Birds To Trust You




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Imagine being able to build a connection with the captivating world of wild birds, gaining their trust and even hand feeding them. Integrating yourself into their daily feeding routine can help establish a bond of trust that may surprise you. Although it’s important to remember that while you can tame wild birds to become comfortable with your presence, they cannot be fully domesticated. Fascinating studies indicate that birds like pigeons and crows have the remarkable ability to recognize individual humans. So, if you’re curious about how to get wild birds to trust you, there are practical steps you can take. Start by ensuring a safe environment for these feathered friends, establish a predictable feeding routine, and gradually approach them over time. Remember to hold food in your hand and remain still as they come closer. Some species, like chickadees, nuthatches, hummingbirds, and cardinals, might even eat from your hand. Just be cautious and wash your hands afterward, as there is a risk of catching diseases from birds. While it’s illegal to catch wild birds without a permit, you can try your luck with house sparrows and European starlings, which are considered invasive species. So, get ready to embark on an exciting journey of building trust with nature’s delicate, yet fascinating creatures: wild birds.

Understanding Wild Birds

Birds’ Natural Behavior

Wild birds have their own unique behaviors and instincts that are essential for their survival in their natural habitats. Understanding these behaviors is crucial when trying to gain their trust and establish a connection with them. Birds communicate through vocalizations, body language, and even through their plumage. They have developed specific feeding, nesting, and flocking patterns that vary among different species.

Limitations of Domestication

While it is possible to tame some wild birds and make them comfortable with human presence, it is important to remember that they cannot be fully domesticated. Domesticated birds, such as chickens or parrots, have undergone generations of selective breeding to adapt to living with humans. Wild birds, on the other hand, retain their natural instincts and behaviors, which can make it challenging to fully integrate them into a domestic setting.

Recognition of Humans by Birds

Recent studies suggest that certain bird species, like pigeons and crows, are capable of recognizing individual humans. Birds have excellent visual memory and can remember familiar faces for long periods of time. This recognition can be a result of positive or negative experiences with humans. It is important to approach wild birds with respect and consideration to maintain a positive interaction and avoid any negative associations.

Species that Can Eat from Hands

Not all bird species will readily eat from your hands, but there are some that have shown a propensity for doing so. Among these species are chickadees, nuthatches, hummingbirds, and cardinals. These birds have become accustomed to human presence and are known to approach and feed from open hands. If you are interested in hand feeding birds, focusing on these species may increase the likelihood of success.

Creating a Safe Environment

Providing Food and Water

To attract wild birds to your yard and encourage their presence, it is important to provide them with a reliable source of food and fresh water. Different bird species have varying dietary preferences, so offering a diverse range of bird-friendly foods, such as seeds, suet, fruits, and nectar, can attract a wider variety of birds. Additionally, maintaining clean water sources, such as birdbaths or shallow dishes, is essential for their hydration.

Avoiding Predators

Wild birds are always at risk of predation, so creating a safe environment is crucial for their well-being. Place bird feeders and birdbaths in areas where they have an unobstructed view of their surroundings, allowing them to detect potential predators more easily. Additionally, avoid placing feeders and water sources too close to dense vegetation, which can provide cover for predators. Regularly monitoring the feeding area for any signs of predation or disturbance is important to ensure the safety of the birds.

Creating Shelter

Providing nesting boxes, shrubs, and trees can give wild birds the shelter they need to feel safe and secure. These structures serve as protective cover from harsh weather conditions, predators, and potential threats. Planting native trees and shrubs in your yard can attract more bird species, as they provide natural food sources, nesting materials, and roosting spots. By offering a variety of shelter options, you can create an inviting habitat that encourages birds to stay and explore.

Establishing Trust

Consistency in Feeding Routine

Wild birds thrive on predictable patterns, so establishing a consistent feeding routine can help them feel more secure. Birds quickly learn to associate specific times with a reliable source of food, which can lead to them being more comfortable around you. Determine a feeding schedule that works best for you and stick to it, ensuring that fresh food is available at the same time every day. Over time, the birds will come to recognize and trust your presence during their regular feeding times.

Gradually Approaching the Birds

When initially attempting to hand feed wild birds, it is important to start with a respectful distance and gradually decrease it over time. Begin by sitting or standing near their feeding area without making any sudden movements or loud noises. Give them time to become familiar with your presence and observe their behaviors. As they become more comfortable, slowly move closer while maintaining a calm and non-threatening demeanor. Remember, patience is key when building trust with wild birds.

Building Familiarity with Your Presence

To establish trust and familiarity, you can incorporate simple actions that signal your non-threatening intentions to the birds. For example, try wearing the same colored clothing consistently during feeding times so that birds can associate that color with positive experiences. You can also spend time observing the birds from a distance without attempting to interact with them directly. This gradual exposure will help assure the birds that you pose no harm and are not a threat.

Ensuring Predictability

Consistency and predictability are essential when establishing trust with wild birds. Avoid sudden movements, loud noises, or any actions that may startle or scare the birds away. Be patient and allow the birds to approach you on their own terms. Being a predictable presence will create a sense of safety and stability that encourages the birds to interact with you more closely.

Preparing for Hand Feeding

Selecting Appropriate Food

When planning to hand feed wild birds, it is crucial to offer them food that is safe and appropriate for their dietary needs. Different bird species have different preferences, so research the specific needs of the species you are trying to feed. Select high-quality birdseed, suet, or nectar that is free from any harmful additives or pesticides. Providing a diverse range of foods will attract a wider variety of birds and increase the chances of successful hand feeding interactions.

Holding Food in Your Hand

To encourage birds to approach and feed from your hand, it is important to hold the food correctly. Place a small amount of food, such as seeds or suet, in your open palm. Make sure your hand is stable and flat, offering a stable surface for the birds to perch and feed. Keep your fingers gently together to avoid causing any harm to the birds or accidentally dropping the food. Patience and stillness are key during this process.

Maintaining Stillness

When offering food from your hand, it is crucial to remain as still as possible. Birds are incredibly perceptive and can easily be startled by sudden movements. Slowly extend your arm without jerky motions, keeping your body relaxed and your hand steady. By maintaining stillness, you create an environment that feels calm and secure to the birds, increasing the likelihood of them approaching and feeding from your hand.

Avoiding Sudden Movements

Any sudden movements, such as flinching or quickly retracting your hand, can startle the birds and disrupt the hand feeding process. It is important to remember that birds are naturally cautious creatures, and it may take time for them to fully trust you. If a bird becomes startled, remain calm and still, allowing it to regain its confidence and resume feeding if it feels comfortable. Avoid making any sudden noises or quick movements that could potentially scare them away.

Hand Feeding Technique

Offering Food from Palm

Once you have positioned your hand with the food in a stable and still manner, an open palm is the most inviting and comfortable position for the birds. This allows them to easily access the food and perch on your hand without feeling cramped or unstable. Avoid cupping your hand or making any sudden movements that could disturb the birds while feeding. By presenting an open palm, you provide a sense of safety and accessibility for the birds.

Extending Arm Slowly

When the birds appear comfortable and ready to approach, gently extend your arm towards them. Move slowly and smoothly, allowing the birds to adjust to the changing distance. Continue to offer a calm and inviting demeanor as you extend your arm. The gradual approach will help build trust and prevent the birds from feeling threatened. Be patient, as different birds may have varying comfort levels and may require more time to feel at ease with your extended arm.

Allowing Birds to Approach

The key to successful hand feeding is allowing the birds to approach you on their own terms. Avoid any temptation to try and touch or physically guide the birds towards your hand. Instead, remain still and patient, allowing the birds to decide when they feel comfortable enough to approach and feed. Remember, the process of gaining their trust takes time, and each bird will have its own comfort level and pace of interaction.

Avoiding Touching Birds

While it may be tempting to touch or stroke the birds as they feed from your hand, it is important to resist this urge. Touching wild birds can be stressful for them and may cause them to associate negative experiences with human interaction. Respect the birds’ boundaries and focus on providing them with a positive feeding experience. Touching can also be harmful to the birds, as human touch can remove protective oils from their feathers, leading to potential plumage problems.

Preferred Species for Hand Feeding


Chickadees are small, lively birds that are known for their fearless nature when it comes to interacting with humans. They are often found in wooded areas, and their curiosity makes them more likely to approach and feed from your hand. Offering them sunflower seeds or suet can help attract chickadees to your hand-feeding area.


Nuthatches, with their unique ability to move headfirst down trees, are another species that can be encouraged to hand feed. They are commonly found in forested areas and are attracted to suet and nut-based foods. Patience is key when trying to hand feed nuthatches, as they may take longer to gain trust and approach your hand.


Hummingbirds are fascinating creatures and can add a touch of magic to hand feeding experiences. Although they are small and fast, they can become accustomed to feeding from your hand with time and patience. Providing a nectar solution in a small dish or using a hummingbird feeder will increase the chances of attracting these beautiful birds to your hand.


Cardinals are known for their stunning red plumage and melodious songs. While they may be shy at first, their curiosity can lead them to approach and feed from your hand. Cardinals are attracted to black oil sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and crushed peanuts. Offering these foods can encourage their presence and increase the likelihood of hand feeding interactions.

Potential Risks and Precautions

Disease Transmission

When interacting closely with wild birds, there is a risk of disease transmission. Birds can carry various pathogens, including bacteria, viruses, and parasites, that may pose a threat to human health. It is recommended to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after each interaction with wild birds, especially before eating or touching your face. This simple precaution can help prevent the spread of any potential diseases.

Washing Hands after Feeding

As mentioned earlier, washing your hands after feeding wild birds is essential for maintaining good hygiene. By washing your hands thoroughly, you can prevent the transfer of any potential pathogens from birds to humans. Use warm water and soap, and ensure that you scrub your hands well, including between fingers and under nails, for at least 20 seconds. This simple act of hand hygiene plays a crucial role in safeguarding your health.

Avoiding Overfeeding

While it can be tempting to continue hand feeding wild birds, it is important to avoid overfeeding them. Providing excessive amounts of food can disrupt their natural foraging behaviors and lead to dependency on human-provided food sources. It is best to offer small amounts of food at each feeding, ensuring that the birds still rely on their natural food sources for a healthy and balanced diet.

Respecting Wildlife Laws

It is essential to understand and abide by wildlife laws and regulations in your area when interacting with wild birds. In many regions, it is illegal to capture or hold certain bird species without the appropriate permits. Exceptions may be made for invasive species, such as house sparrows and European starlings, which can be captured or removed without a permit. Familiarize yourself with local wildlife regulations to avoid any legal issues and to ensure the protection of both birds and their habitats.

Hand feeding wild birds can be a rewarding and fulfilling experience, allowing you to establish a unique connection with these beautiful creatures. By understanding their natural behaviors, creating a safe environment, and gradually building trust, you can increase the chances of successfully hand feeding birds. Remember to always approach wild birds with respect, patience, and consideration for their well-being. Through these efforts, you can enjoy the beauty of nature and foster a deep appreciation for our avian friends.

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