How to get wild birds in your yard to eat from your hand

Chickadee Perched on Hand Ashbridge's Bay Park: Photo: Judy-Ann Cazemier

Chickadee Perched on Hand Ashbridge’s Bay Park: Photo: Judy-Ann Cazemier

Imagine this: I’m at an afternoon party with friends and a cardinal lands on the deck railing just outside the patio door. The host takes a shelled peanut from a dish, opens the sliding door and puts his hand outside, The cardinal comes to his hand, takes the peanut and flies off.

I have seen countless feeders in countless yards in my lifetime but this is the only that I know of where cardinals (and other birds) take feed from your hand.

How did this happen? I asked my friends Alistair and Debby to give me a step by step description of how it was accomplished. Here is Alistair’s list:

  1.  Start to notice which birds are around
  2.  Put a bird feeder where you and the birds can see it.
  3.  Put out feed regularly
  4.  Stand out near the feeder with a roasted, unshelled peanut (no salt)
  5.  Hand outstretched and not moving
  6.  Chickadees will eventually notice
  7.  Do this for a few minutes at the same time every day
  8.  Chickadees will be the first to land on your hand
  9.  Other species may take months or years to come to you
  10.  With cardinals: at first, we could get them to eat out of our hand if you put your hand on the ground and let them approach you while hopping

P.S. Keep in mind that each bird is an individual and some are friendlier and braver than others. Be patient!

Here is Debby’s description of the process:

Regarding feeding the cardinals: it actually took a few years for them to be brave enough to
come to our hands. We started with the chickadees. The blue jays and cardinals would always
come to get treats ( peanuts ) too but not from our hands. They started to come regularly and
called for food. In the spring and summer time when we have our back doors open, they would
come when they heard piano playing. The cardinals would often come to the kitchen
windows and look inside to see if we have food for them. About 3 years ago, I decided to try to
feed them from my hand. When a female cardinal came one day, I put a peanut on my hand
and asked her to come. I waited and waited patiently.
She finally did it. After a while, the male came too. In general, the female is braver than the male
but at times, the pattern changes. Now they come everyday to get peanuts from our
Thank-you Debby and Alistair!
Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

black-capped chickadee

black-capped chickadee

 Miles Hearn


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