Rules for Hand-Taming Wild Birds

By Alfred G. Martin
July 28, 2010
Backyard Bird
Doug McClusky

Here are a few simple but very important rules you must remember if you wish to succeed with birds.

O wise little birds, how do ye know
The way to go?

- Harriet McEwen Kimball

  • Whether you believe it or not, always try to behave as if a bird can and does reason, as if in some things it is smarter than you. If you do this, you will have little trouble in hand-taming it.
  • Never approach a wild bird without speaking to it all the time.
  • Always move very slowly around birds until they become accustomed to your presence.
  • Always try to remember that there is no such thing as a naturally tame wild bird. You are its greatest enemy until you have gained its confidence. If you should have a stray one come to your hand before you have tried to hand-tame it, you can be sure that it has been tamed by some other bird lover.
  • Never hold out your hand to a bird unless it contains food that it likes. A wild bird does not come to you because it loves you; it takes a chance because it is hungry. Holding out an empty hand to a bird is like holding out an empty hand to a child who is expecting to find a candy bar in it. A bird will resent it as much as a child would, and worse still, it may think that you are telling it the food is all gone and that it may have to leave for greener pastures.
  • Always carry some of the seed in your pocket; then if a bird settles on your shoulder, it will not be disappointed.
  • Never swallow while a bird is on your hand watching you. The sight of food makes a bird's mouh water, and it always swallows just before it starts to eat. When the bird sees you swallow while you are looking at it, it may think that you are considering it for your next meal. It won't stay around for long; the chances are very good that you will never see that bird again.
  • Always watch for the slightest sign of fear on a bird's face. Birds' eyes show fear in exactly the same way human eyes do. The movement of a bird's stomach also shows fear, just as the rapid movement of the vein on a man's forehead betrays his fear.
  • The instant you see signs of fear when a wild bird first comes to your hand, hold your breath as long as you can and keep absolutely motionless.
  • Never close your hand on a wild bird unless it is to pick up a sick or injured one. The instant you close your hand on a free bird, it is so frightened that when you open your hand again, it will fly as far away from you as fast as it can and will not return.
  • If a bird wants to leave you while you are trying to tame it, let it go; do not follow it.
  • The bird knows how the fox, mink, weasel, cat, raccoon, follow when they want something to eat, and when you start following it, it thinks you have the same thing in mind. Be patient and the bird will come to you when it is hungry.
  • Never overload your feeder unless you are trying to get a large flock of new birds to come in. If you have plenty of food out all the time, you will encourage undesirable species, and you will fail in hand-taming a single bird.
  • Never allow even your best friends near your birds unless you are with them. A well-meaning friend can ruin months of work for you and your bird and may even drive off your bird for good.
  • Do not feel discouraged if your first few attempts at hand-taming are failures, because this may happen to the best of naturalists. There is just as much individualism among all wild creatures as there is among people. It may be that not a single bird was tamable in the whole flock you worked with.

Remember: You will have greater success with birds if you think of them as little people who can reason and not as brainless creatures who act only on the persuasion of some inborn instinct.


The 1994 Old Farmer's Almanac

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i found a sparrow

i found a sparrow in my backyard roof side it couldn't fly yet but had feathers so i picked it up and put it in my bird cage it stayed for 1 day the next day i notice that its flock was still nearby base on the way the sparrow and the flock were conversing i felt pity took the cage outside and opened the top down it flock came and encouraged it to fly and it took of . since then i have been bored and heartbroken today i found another sparrow though an adult sparrow but i need advice how do i tame it as a pet

found a crow

I found a crow that has an injuried eye and the other is fine, he acts somewhat alright and I currently have him in a large box that's open since he doesn't get out of it. He doesn't eat and I give him water that he gladly drinks up but he can't fend for himself currently. What can I do?

injured crow

The Editors's picture

We’d suggest that you take him to a wildlife rehabilitation center in your area. There are directories online that help you to locate one near you, or you can call a local veterinarian – the staff may be able to recommend a center or have further advice.

Here is a list by state by the Humane Society of the United States:

Here is some more information by the National Wildlife Rehabilitators Association:

Good luck!


I have 3 kookaburras that

I have 3 kookaburras that come and get food every day,one of them is very friendly and i even pat her, another is friendly but does not like to be patted, and another is still wild, pick up the food but does not stop closely, also teaching a magpie to wistle before i give him food, i am getting there..

Hi all. I seem to have tamed

Hi all. I seem to have tamed 2 mated king parrots, with the help of a friend. Spot and dot. They come to my house multiple times a day. My plan is for them to handfeed and get comfy with that > have them settle on my arm, without nibbling on my fingers... And lastly, I want to pat them. Not the wisest thing perhaps or even achievable. Thanks for supplying this information. :-)

I hand tamed an injured Cedar

I hand tamed an injured Cedar Waxwing. Her wing was hurt and she was in total shock. Her name was Witherwings. She just flew away.

We have a crow that comes all

We have a crow that comes all day everyday we call him/her? crowie it even comes to call now and lets us stroke him and we talk to him all the time people who walk past our garden can't believe how tame he is .If he has not had some food for a certain time he sits on our bin and taps on our window and then he sits on our fence most of the day only flying off now and again but always returns.We wondered if he has been brought up by a human with him being so tame what do you think .

What is exactly the

What is exactly the definition of "taming"? Will it just stick around my house for food or can I learn it tricks and let it sit on my finger and such? Like a petbird? If it is like a pet bird ot would be a really fun hobby because I can't have a petbird of my parents because of all the downsides but then there are none! :D So is that possible or are they just coming for food? Thanks in advance!

I have recently captured A

I have recently captured A sparrow it was injured and has slowly been nursed back to health as it is not fully recovered As well as it's flock is long gone I can not free it yet but before I do I want the bird to be able to trust me completely so we can continue to be friends after I free him

I have a question: I have

I have a question: I have everyday a visitor of 3 crows and I would like to know how be a friend of them. what kind of seed should I have to give them. and how to make them more at home. thank you

Glad you've taken a liking to

Glad you've taken a liking to your crows, Margoth! So many people dismiss them (wrongly) as pests. Crows will eat almost anything you put out for them: cracked corn, sunflower seeds, peanuts, old cheese, meat scraps, dog or cat food, can't go wrong. Don't put out too much at once, as crows will cache extra food for later, and thus be less likely to return. If you put out food around the same time each day, and whistle or honk your horn before doing so, you'll be amazed how quickly they will learn to respond! A shallow bird bath with 2-3 inches of water would also make them very happy. Good luck!

thanks for the info. I never

thanks for the info. I never considered trying to tame a bird before until I saw in bird book as much about Chickadees. So, I looked on Google and found a wealth of info. My wife and I back to the woods and have many wild Chicadees, Titmice, Cardinals, Finches, Mockingbirds, Hummers, and sparrows. I don't know how this will go, but I have always had a love of animals.