Hand-feeding hummingbirds can be a magical, enchanting experience for any birder, and with patience and perseverance, it can be surprisingly easy to do.
Feeding Hummingbirds by Hand
Any birder with a hummingbird feeder can feed hummingbirds by hand. The key to success is to gain the birds’ trust, however, and it takes several steps to do so.
1. Attract Hummingbirds
To make it easier to hand-feed hummingbirds, arrange the feeders and flowers in a single location to concentrate where the birds visit and help them become familiar with where food is available.
2. Take Notes
As hummingbirds visit your yard, note when the most popular feeding times are each day and how many birds take advantage of the feeders. If there is one feeder that is especially popular, study the birds’ behavior to learn why they prefer it.
3. Be Present
Once hummingbirds regularly visit the feeding station, it is time to get them used to your presence. During the most popular feeding times, sit outside several feet away from the feeders. Each day, move a small step or two closer to the feeders, but remain still so the birds are not threatened. Avoid sudden moves or unnecessary sounds while the birds gradually learn you won’t hurt them.
4. Be Consistent
As the birds are getting used to you, be consistent with what time you’re at the feeders, how you stand or sit, and what you wear. Keeping your behavior similar day after day will help the birds become accustomed to you more quickly, but it may still take several days or weeks for them to feel comfortable with you nearby.
5. Hold the Feeder
When the birds have become used to you and you’re able to sit or stand very close to the feeder without disturbing them, it is time to try holding the feeder for them to eat.
Remove other feeders to concentrate their activity at the feeder you’re holding, and keep the feeder very still to avoid startling the birds. If you are patient, a hummingbird may sip from the feeder within just a few minutes.
6. Provide a Perch
If you want an even more intimate experience hand-feeding hummingbirds, offer your finger or hand as a perch in front of the feeder’s feeding ports. This is easy to do by cupping the feeder in your hand or placing your fingers alongside an existing perch.
For many birders, having a hummingbird land on their finger to feed is an amazing experience. If you want to have an even more intimate encounter with these flying jewels, consider using a very small dish as a feeder, such as a red bottle cap, a test tube, or a floral tube and rest it in your palm or hold it in a closed fist. Once the birds are used to landing on your hand to feed, you can even put a small splash of nectar directly in your hand for the birds to sip.
Tips for Hand-Feeding Hummingbirds
It can take several weeks for hummingbirds to become accustomed to your presence and feel safe feeding from your hands. To make the process easier:
Wear a red or floral print shirt or hat to attract the birds to you. Even small red accents such as a red bead bracelet or red nail polish can help guide the birds to the feeder you’re holding.
Select Simple Feeders
Choose a simple feeder style with only a single feeding port. This will allow you to position the feeder so the birds will land on your hand or give you good views while you’re feeding them.
Competition Means Success is More Likely
Try feeding hummingbirds by hand only late in the season when there are more birds visiting your feeders. The more competition there is for food, the more likely a bold bird will land on your hand or visit a hand-held feeder.
Avoid Offering Multiple Feeders
Remove multiple feeders and deadhead nearby spent red flowers to help concentrate hummingbirds’ activity closer to the feeder you are holding. This reduces the availability of alternative feeding locations and may encourage a more reluctant bird to try a hand-held feeder. This should only be a temporary measure. If the hummingbirds that visit your garden are used to have lots of feeding options, it would be a shame to limit this permanently.
Provide Steady Support
Brace your hand or arm on a table, stool, or other steady support. It may take up to an hour before a hummingbird tries your feeder, and if your hand is shaking or unsteady they will be less likely to come close enough to feed.
Hummingbirds may be curious and adventurous, but they are still wild birds and can be unpredictable. If you aren’t able to hand-feed hummingbirds one day, try again the next day for better success.
Feeding Hummingbirds Away From Home
If you aren’t able to feed hummingbirds by hand at home, contact local nature centers and bird sanctuaries to see if they offer a hummingbird feeding program.
Two popular destinations for hand-feeding hummingbirds are Lake Hope State Park in Ohio and Rocklands Bird Sanctuary in Jamaica, and both facilities have worked for years to condition hummingbirds to be relaxed around visitors in order to make hand feeding possible.
While other sanctuaries and parks may not have ongoing hummingbird hand-feeding programs, they may be able to arrange an opportunity for you to try.
Hummingbird Feeding Safety
When you’re feeding hummingbirds by hand, always keep the birds’ safety in mind. Do not allow very young children to try feeding the birds if they may be scared or impatient, and keep pets indoors at all times when the hummingbirds are feeding.
Avoid the temptation to touch or stroke a bird’s wings or heads, as their delicate plumage can be easily damaged and a strong touch can injure the bird and will destroy the trust you’ve built with them.
Feeding hummingbirds by hand may seem exotic, but with patience and preparation, any birder with hummingbirds in their yard can be feeding them by hand before they know it.