Most all of us have heard the expression "eating out of your hand." Well, in addition to being very entertaining, with a little patience your backyard birds can become your friend, sit on your shoulder and eat out of your hand. With snow on the ground and some of their food covered, you can become their friend much quicker.
Birds are very beneficial to us in many ways – especially to gardeners. Birds eat many times their weight in bugs and are natural gardeners, spreading seeds through their digestive system. They also help with pollination as they go from one plant to another.
When temperatures fall below freezing, birds struggle to find the food they need to survive the winter in a healthy condition. When their regular food source – such as berries, acorns and seeds – is covered with snow and ice, food can be impossible to find. In these conditions more birds come to our feeders and gardens. We can greatly improve the birds’ chances of survival by putting out bird feeders regularly and also maybe some fruit, fatballs, etc.
The best time to start your training project and winning the birds’ trust is early on a cold sunny morning; especially after an ice storm which seals away much natural food. Begin by feeding at the same time every day. The best time is in early morning when birds are seeking food. Add a few chopped walnuts or pecans, which many birds love, where the birds can get at them immediately. Certain birds, very likely an inquisitive nuthatch or chickadee, will catch on most quickly and start showing up soon after you visit the feeder.
On a cold morning after you put out the food, stand or sit quietly for a few minutes about 10 to 15 feet away from the feeder. It's okay to talk; the birds will learn to associate your voice with food, but don't make sudden movements. The first bird that comes to the feeder will get all the treats, but soon others will come.
Do the same thing the following days, but stand a foot closer each time. Once the birds are coming to the feeder while you stand right next to it, put your open hand on or next to the feeder – it's okay to wear gloves if they are always the same color. When the birds seem comfortable eating near your hand, remove all the food from the feeder and offer the nutty pieces on your palm. Be patient. One of the birds will eventually land on the feeder and take a piece of nut from your hand and may even hop onto your fingers. You can gradually expand the area where the birds come to you.
Hope you have fun making new friends!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at (260) 499-6334 in LaGrange County.