Fledglings, Have You Seen Them?

If You Find Fledgling Birds, Please Leave Them Alone

The greatest reward of having birds nesting in your backyard is the arrival of the fledglings in summer and witnessing the continuation of life that gives so many of us irrepressible joy.

At intoBirds, we stock our bird feeders daily to keep our avian friends content.

It’s not a hobby, it’s part of our daily routine regardless of the weather.

And after three long months, we’re now enjoying the fruits of our labor.

Red-bellied Woodpeckers

Throughout the day, we see both the male and female Red-bellied Woodpeckers feeding their youngsters.

Suet feeder runs in the family: Red-bellied Woodpecker fledgling visiting the same suet feeder its parents visit
Suet feeder runs in the family: Red-bellied Woodpecker fledgling visiting the same suet feeder its parents visit

It’s a thrill watching the young bird come to the suet feeder on their own under the watchful eye of their parent.

And other times, the parents bring the youngster food.

Blue Jays

Or it’s the Blue Jay parents feeding its fluffy youngster, that looks bigger than them.

The young Blue Jay gets impatient while waiting for its parents to bring its meal, quickly dropping to the ground for a quick insect snack until they return.

READ: What Bird Species Would You Be?

Tufted Titmouse

A perky Tufted Titmouse begins flapping its wings in anticipation of its parent returning with food. The youngster immediately demands more as the parent flies off to appease its demands.

Feisty Tufted Titmouse is excited to see its parent return with food
Feisty Tufted Titmouse is excited to see its parent return with food

Downy Woodpeckers, Chipping Sparrows, Cardinals, and Hawks

Young Downy Woodpeckers are a joy to watch as they swing and glide over branches as if it’s their own jungle gym patiently waiting for their parent’s arrival with food.

The delicate, active Chipping Sparrows cluster in the trees, with their youngsters in tow, feeding them as they leap from branch to branch.

Or the male Northern Cardinal attentively feeding its youngster on the ground.

Attentive male Northern Cardinal feeding its young
Attentive male Northern Cardinal feeding its young

And in the distance, we hear the resounding “kee-aah, kee-aah” calls of the Red-shouldered Hawk family taking flight above us.

It’s incredible witnessing the beauty of nature all around us.

Baby Bird Terminology

Talking with bird watchers or seasoned birders, you hear them use several different words to describe what some people often refer to as “baby” birds.

So, what’s the difference.

Aren’t they all just baby birds?

No.

Birders might correct you and tell you that there is no such thing as a “baby” bird, and the terms used to describe them refer to their different ages and stages of growth.

Here are several birding terms used to describe “baby” birds.

Killdeer chicks hatch with their eyes open and they're born ready to run
Killdeer chicks hatch with their eyes open and they’re born ready to run

Chick: Any type of bird that’s still relatively young.

Hatchling: Birds that are no more than a few days.

Hatchlings are typically naked with closed eyes (though certain species are born with feathers).

Nestling: After a few days, a hatchling becomes a nestling.

Nestlings are usually covered in down (fine feathers that almost look like fur) and are completely dependent on its parents for food and do not leave the nest.

Fledgling: When the baby bird is ready to leave the nest, it becomes a fledgling.

This is the “baby” bird you occasionally find on the ground near a nest, hopping around awkwardly.

Fledglings have flight feathers but are learning to fly and still depend on parents for food.

Branchers: Young birds that have left the nest and perch on a branch near the nest as parents bring them food

Chipping Sparrow fledgling waits on a branch for its parent to bring it food
Chipping Sparrow fledgling waits on a branch for its parent to bring it food

Please Leave Fledglings Alone

You might be encountering fledglings appearing in some of the most peculiar of places.

And our love for birds makes us want to assist a fluffy “baby” bird that looks abandoned.

But here’s a piece of advice.

Please don’t.

If you find fledglings, please leave them alone.

Some birds regularly depart before being able to fly and are capable of hiding themselves from predators.

Fledglings should be left where they are, in the care of their parents.

Even if you don’t see a parent, chances are it’s not too far away.

Female Downy Woodpecker feeding its male fledging
Female Downy Woodpecker feeding its male fledging

READ: Female Falconer Gives Injured Birds of Prey a Second Chance at Life in the Wild

Fledgling’s Parents are Usually Close By

Removing a fledgling from the wild cuts its chances of long-term survival to a small fraction, and should only be done as a very last resort.

Unless a grounded fledgling is in imminent danger, do not rescue it because parents are usually coaxing the baby to fly.

But chase off backyard predators such as dogs and cats.

If you find the bird on a busy path or road or other potentially dangerous, exposed location, it makes sense to pick it up and move it a short distance to a safer place.

But make sure you put it down within hearing reach of where it was found so its parents can find it.

Contrary to what we’ve been told as kids, handling a young bird does not cause its parents to abandon it.

Birds have a poor sense of smell and do not respond to human smell in the same way as mammals.

Red-tailed Hawk parent with chicks in the nest
Red-tailed Hawk parent with chicks in the nest

Rescuing a “Baby” Bird

It’s tempting to ‘rescue’ a “baby” bird you think might be in trouble, but here are a few are some things to remember.

-Adult birds are much more skilled at looking after their offspring than humans will ever be!

-It’s likely the bird’s parents are nearby, waiting for you to leave the area.

-If the bird is in a vulnerable position, like in the middle of the pavement, it’s OK to move it somewhere safe nearby off the ground into a bush or tree where cats won’t see it.

-Please don’t feed the bird. Feeding a bird what you think is appropriate for them to eat can result in the bird’s death.

-Watch from a safe distance to see what happens.

This tiny Killdeer chick fell down a storm drain and required human rescuing
This tiny Killdeer chick fell down a storm drain and required human rescuing

If the bird has been abandoned, it’s best to contact your local wildlife rehabilitator or Department of Environmental Conservation for advice.

Visit the Humane Society’s site here to find a list of wildlife rehabilitators in your state.

It’s exciting to see beautiful bird families all around us.

So, celebrate the continuation of life and get out and see birds.

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