Eating out of your hand

Hand-taming hummingbirds is a cinch

MATTHEW BARTMANN Broad-tailed hummingbirds quickly swarm a homemade hand feeder.

You’ve seen the videos and the posts on Facebook: Someone holding a small container of sugar water and swarmed by hummingbirds buzzing around, even sitting on their fingers.

Must be magic!

Nope. It’s simple. If you already have hummingbirds flocking around a nectar feeder, you too can thrill to the touch of tiny hummingbird feet perching on your finger…in about five minutes.

Hummingbirds can’t help investigating anything red. You may have had one hover in front of your red lipstick, or your red glasses frames, or zoom towards your red shirt. That single-minded attraction to red is what you’ll use to get them to eat out of your hand.

Red means food to hummers, because all red (or red-orange) American native flowers—penstemons, salvias, Indian paintbrush, beebalm, red columbines, red or red-orange honeysuckle, trumpetvine, and many others—are designed to attract hummingbirds as pollinators.

Those flowers keep their nectar at the end of a long tube, out of the reach of many other nectar-seekers. That means a much higher chance of a payoff to hummers, and the little birds know it! It’s why they go to red.

Ready to have hummingbirds eating out of your hand? First, you’ll need a container with a red lid.

Broad-tailed hummers, the most common species in our area, are most abundant above about 6,000 feet. Look for hand feeders like this at bird stores or online…or make your own.

You can buy hand-held hummer feeders at bird stores or online, but you probably have the makings already, like the empty paprika jar in these photos. Wash the jar and lid so it doesn’t smell of what was in it, then punch a hole of about 1/8″ to ¼” diameter through the center of the lid (we used a good-sized nail to make the hole). No red lids in the house? Decorate the lid with red tape, red marker, red paper, or a red fake flower. Red is the must-have magic to this trick!


Any small jar with a red lid makes a fine hand-held hummingbird feeder.

Fill the jar with your usual hummingbird sugar water, and sit next to your full-size feeder, holding out the small feeder.

If you’re feeding a crowd, one or more of the customers at your regular feeder will investigate almost immediately.

If you have only one or two hummingbirds visiting your feeder, try it in the morning or evening (popular times for feeder visits), and speed things up by removing or covering the main nectar feeder so that their only option is the one you’re holding.

There you go! You’ve hand-tamed your hummingbirds! And once they recognize your little feeder as definitely meaning food, they’ll be much quicker to come to it the next time.

August is peak season for hummingbirds, with youngsters leaving the nests to crowd feeders, and mountain hummers moving down to begin migration. Migration begins about Labor Day, so you have plenty of time to have hummingbirds eating out of your hand.

No hummingbirds at your regular feeder? Take a small hand-feeder with you on your next visit to the mountains (from about 6,000 feet elevation on up), where broad-tailed hummingbirds are abundant, and plan on a picnic stop. A packet of superfine sugar, the same kind that restaurants put on the table for your coffee or iced tea, will dissolve instantly in water; no heating needed. Rest your hand, holding the feeder, on the picnic table, and watch the magic happen.



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