Dr. Ray L. Winstead
Professor of Biology (retired), Indiana University of Pennsylvania

Feeding Chickadees Out of My Hand near Indiana, Pennsylvania
How it Started, November, 2012



Ray Winstead with two Chickadees near Indiana, Pennsylvania December 26, 2012

    Feeding the chickadees out of my hand in winter is fun!  As a Southerner from North Carolina and having moved to Indiana, PA to teach at IUP in 1976 I usually have not liked the winter weather here in the past, but now I have something in winter to look forward to.  In early Fall, 2012 I met with Ed Patterson, Director of Indiana County Parks and Trails, at a chance meeting in Memorial Park in Indiana, PA, while I was eating my lunch.  At that time I told him my plan of "training" the chickadees to feed out of my hand out at Blue Spruce County Park in late Fall and early Winter.  So, with his encouragement and support I started the process of “training” the birds out at Blue Spruce County Park in November, 2012.  For about a month going out every day I eventually had birds eating out of my hand, not just chickadees, but also titmice and a nuthatch.  At first I put sunflower seeds on two stumps in the woods and stood about fifty feet away, close enough for the birds to see me, but far enough away as not to be perceived as a threat.  Each day after putting seeds on the stumps I moved to stand a step closer to the stumps than the previous day.  The birds continued to accept my presence, so that after about a month I was standing between the two stumps right beside me with the birds easily coming to the stumps right next to me.  Eventually, the birds would see me coming and would gather around the stumps.  At first I moved back some while they retrieved the seeds from the stumps.  Then I gradually stood closer and closer until I was right there at the stumps.  At that point I did not put seeds on the stumps but offered seeds in my hand.  Success!  Now they fly around me and may land on my hat and shoulders as soon as I enter the woods.  Note the photos of the birds coming to my hand, as well as others in December, 2012.

A FEW PHOTOS
December 26, 2012 - January 3, 2013

February 4, 2017 Photos

Since that time birds readily come down to my hand any time I go out to see them during the winter.  Many other people now go out to Blue Spruce to feed the birds by hand, having learned about it through "word of mouth," no doubt not knowing how it all started there.

Special Note: The birds really like a combination of the small black oil sunflower seeds and peanuts that have been taken out of their shells.  In particular, some individual chickadees prefer the sunflower seeds, while other individual chickadees prefer the peanuts.  The Tufted Titmice and White-breasted Nuthatches prefer the peanuts, but will also eat the sunflower seeds.

You can also see a write-up of a field trip November 23, 2013 I led to feed the birds by the Todd Bird Club at

Todd_Nuthatch_2014_January.pdf

A photo of me feeding a nuthatch was also on the front page of the local newspaper on December 10, 2013.  The newspaper photographer Tom Peel was out at the park looking for a shot, so he took photos of me feeding the birds.


December 10, 2013 Front Page Indiana Gazette, Photo by Tom Peel
 

Individual Chickadee Descriptions December 2013

George I: by far the most dominant individual over all the chickadees, all the titmice, and even over the nuthatch;  chases the others away at times and will even physically fly into another bird already on my hand to knock them off - fights with titmice will even involve locked feet and falling to the ground; call is noticeably the lowest pitched of any of the other chickadees; the black bib has a sharp edge with the white underneath but there are small black whisker marks out both sides;  often flies directly to my hand from far away without landing on a nearby branch as the others do - you can see him coming through the woods or down the trail after having taken a seed somewhere else; lands in my hand with flat feet, so I don't even feel the claws; flies away with no push-off, especially in comparison to the titmice; stays on my hand the longest and is the most picky - will pick up a seed and possibly reject it and pick up another; much more than the others will pick up two seeds at a time before flying off.  Will sometimes fly back to my hand with a seed already in his mouth as he chases off another bird that just came to my hand after he just left.

Sharpie: the second individual who landed on my hand this Fall, after coming close and observing George I for a while;  often lands oriented vertically, so that the sharp claws are felt; the black bib has a broad gray transition border (actually black feather dots on white) with a more ragged edge on the bird's right side.

Hover: the third individual who landed on my hand this Fall after observing George I and Sharpie;  for the first week or so each day often hovered just before landing on my hand, but usually does not do that any more; black bib has a narrow gray transition border without other ragged edges.

Sideburns: noticeable "whisker marks" = sideburns on both sides of black bib, very similar to but greater than those of George I, however the behavior of Sideburns is that this individual is still the most hesitant and reluctant to come to any hand - exact opposite of George I - will come close many times and then abort - but after a while then comes regularly, but usually waiting for an open chance when other birds are not on my hand - will sit on a nearby branch the longest before coming to my hand.

George II: has black bib with a sharp edge with the white underneath but there are no black whisker marks - a pattern most closely illustrated in a field guide.  Not always present with the rest of the flock.
 

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Dr. Ray L. Winstead
Direct e-mail Link: rw@raywinstead.com