Most birds are prey animals, which typically causes them to be afraid of, or at least cautious, around humans. Natural instinct tells birds to be wary of any unknown, particularly something as large (and sometimes as loud) as the Homo sapien.
So let's get into it, are birds actually scared of humans?
If you spend a lot of time observing wild birds you may notice that there is a spectrum of how scared certain individuals or species are of people. For example, birds that visit your feeder are likely more comfortable in your presence than the birds you might encounter on a hike. Birds in cities and suburban areas also tend to be far less fearful of humans.
A bird’s behavior toward people largely depends on their level of exposure and experiences with us. A bird that has not seen many humans in its environment, or one that has not had positive experiences, will be far more fearful than a bird that has learned to navigate the human world.
Species can also play a role in where birds land on the fear spectrum. We will discuss this and more in the paragraphs to follow.
Birds in cities and more populated areas tend to be a lot more tame, and will sometimes feed from your hand
Birds are typically afraid of humans because their instinct tells them humans are potential predators. We often make noises and movements that are unfamiliar to many wild birds. They can also sense our curiosity in them, which can be perceived as a threat if we are too close.
Studies have observed that birds recognize human eye contact. When we look directly at a bird from a close distance, it is often more frightening to them than if we were to stand the same distance away, looking in another direction.
For a prey species, direct eye contact is often only given by predators - generally while moving toward their prey. Thus, when we are observing a bird while also trying to get a closer look, we are imitating predator behavior.
Not all bird species will show the same amount of fear when humans approach them, however. Common urbanized species such as the pigeon or the house sparrow have adapted to human presence and activity.
Unless someone is particularly loud or threatening, these birds do not commonly respond with fear to the human gaze.
House Sparrows and pigeons have adapted to humans
Many wild birds think of humans as threats because they have not encountered us enough to be familiar with our behavior. However, some wild birds have a natural curiosity toward humans.
You may have noticed that the corvid species (crows, ravens, jays), in particular, appear to be naturally curious. They are often seen observing humans, watching for signs of threat, and getting closer if no threat is detected.
Corvids are highly intelligent avians so this behavior could be due in part to their natural curiosity. They may also view humans as a food source. Many wild species grow comfortable around humans for this reason.
Crows are naturally curious birds, and can often be seen observing human behavior
All birds are not afraid of humans. As previously discussed, birds in urbanized settings are often far less fearful of people because they have adapted to our daily activities. Some of these birds may even be comfortable enough to approach a human in search of a quick snack.
Though rural birds tend to be less trusting of people, you can often win their confidence as well - especially if you have a bird feeder. Getting birds comfortable with visiting your yard is the first step. Then, you can slowly give them time to get comfortable with your presence.
Spend time in your yard working on other projects while the birds feast. Try not to make eye contact or be too loud and boisterous. Once they are comfortable with your general presence, you can begin to get closer.
Perhaps, sit still and quiet near the feeder. Eventually, some of the birds may be comfortable enough to approach you.
Robins can become extremely friendly and pleasant birds to have in the garden
Some birds are not scared of humans because they have adapted to our behavior and no longer see us as a threat. Birds often observe unknown animals or potential predators before deeming them a threat. Birds that do not fear and avoid humans have observed us and learned that we generally are not dangerous.
Many birds are conditioned not to fear humans because they have received food from us. Conditioning occurs when an animal develops an association between two things.
For urbanized birds or backyard feeder visitors, humans equal food, which gives the animals a positive association with people.
Backyard feeders are a great way to start building trust with your local birds
Wild birds do get used to humans. As previously discussed, birds are often conditioned to trust most people because they see them as a food source. If you provide the food items birds naturally forage for, as well as other habitat necessities, various bird species will begin to regularly visit your yard.
If you treat these visitors with kindness and respect they will get used to your presence. Some bird species can even bond with humans and may enjoy perching on your hand or sitting near you while you are out and about.
However, it is always important to remember that wild birds remain wild. It is lovely to gain their trust and provide them a safe haven, but they should never be kept as pets.
With enough time and patience, bird species like chickadees can often become comfortable enough to eat seeds from your hands
Certain species of songbirds are often the friendliest species, including chickadees, sparrows, and nuthatches. These birds are common backyard visitors throughout the country. They love hanging out at feeders and seem to have a particular affinity for being near humans.
If you are working on earning the trust of your backyard birds, these three species are often the first to come around.
When wild birds are scared or stressed, they will generally fly away to a safe place and observe the perceived danger. They may even give a distress call to warn others. Some birds may also enter into fight mode when scared.
This behavior is more typical of large birds such as geese or raptors that may charge or dive bomb if you get too close to a nest.
However, crows, jays, and even some songbirds will occasionally dive bomb or mob humans as well, if they feel threatened enough. This isn’t to say you should fear any bird species, but wildlife, including even the smallest birds, should always be respected.
Blue Jays have been known to mob humans when they get too close to their nests
If you want to observe birds at a closer distance, it is vital to remain fairly quiet and not make large or loud movements - talking, singing, or humming softly is okay and may even help make the bird less fearful. Give the birds you are observing time to get comfortable with your presence before trying to move closer.
Birds often fly away from humans because they perceive us as a threat. We often exhibit predator-like behaviors, such as making eye contact and trying to approach. Such actions make many birds wary.
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