Rules for Hand-Taming Wild Birds

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Doug McClusky

How to Gentle the Birds in Your Backyard

Alfred G. Martin
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Do you wish that you could get up close and personal with the birds in your backyard? Consider trying to hand-tame these feathered beauties. 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 trying to hand-tame it, you can be sure that some other bird lover has tamed it.
  • Never hold your hand to a bird unless it contains food 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 expecting to find a candy bar. 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 mouth water, and it always swallows just before eating. 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, and 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; the bird will come to you when 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 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.

Have you ever hand-tamed a bird? Tell us about the experience below!

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprising that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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