Everything You Need to Know About Baby Birds

There’s no doubt that baby birds are some of the cutest little things you’ll ever come across.

Even though wild birds don’t usually like coming close to humans, it’s still exciting when a mama bird sets up a nest in your backyard, and you can watch the little babies hatch and learn to fly. 

However, baby birds are often a little more complicated than they seem. There are a few stages of development, and where they are in this process they may determine what should be done if you find one abandoned or injured. 


Development of Baby Birds

Baby birds go through three stages of development before they reach adulthood. They are as follows: 


Hatchling

A hatchling is akin to a newborn human – they have just hatched and probably haven’t even opened their eyes yet. Baby birds are considered hatchling for the first three days after emerging from their eggs. 

At this point, it may have a few wisps of down along its body, but that’s it. It’s nowhere near ready to leave the nest. 


Nestling

After those first few days, a baby bird is then known as a nestling.

This stage lasts from day three until about the thirteenth day. Its eyes will open at this point, and it will start developing feathers, though they will look more like tubes because they haven’t broken out from their protective sheaths yet. 

Birds in this stage are still not ready to leave the nest. 


Fledgling

This is the stage where birds are becoming more fully developed. They can be considered a fledgling at the 13-14 day mark. At this point, they are fully feathered, though their tails and wings may still be short. 

They probably aren’t great flyers at this point, but it can walk, hop, and flutter around no problem. By now, it’s left the nest and begun exploring, but it still hasn’t strayed far from its parents as they will still take care of it for a little while. 


Interesting Facts About Baby Birds

Not only are baby birds super cute, but they can be quite interesting. There is often much more than meets the eye when you see a little nest packed full of tiny, chirpy baby birds.

Read on to discover some cool things you may not have known about baby birds. 


They Aren’t Always Born With Feathers. 

While feathers are ultimately crucial to a bird’s existence, many babies are born without any at all. They do grow feathers fairly quickly after hatching, but they require extra care and coverage from their parents to stay warm and protected until then. 

Some species of birds, such as geese and ducks, aren’t born bald but have a soft, thin layer of down.

This provides just enough warmth and protection to leave the nest and forage for very short periods of time, though they are still watched and guided by the parents. 


They Can Look Nothing Like Their Parents

Most of the time, babies of any species just look like a miniature version of their parents. This is not so with some species of birds. 

There are some species of birds with bright, beautiful plumage that consist of many colors.

However, these bird’s babies are often born looking quite dull and boring. There is a good reason for this, though.

They are often covered in darker, earth-like tones in order to camouflage and protect them from predators until they are big enough to fend for themselves. 

Male and female birds also tend to look different – different color patterns and/or shapes and sizes. Males are often larger and brighter so as to attract female mates when breeding season arrives. 

However, baby birds are often born looking like a female regardless of their actual gender. They then grow into their more permanent appearance as they get ready to leave the nest and face life on their own. 


Some Siblings Are Different Species

This is not terribly common but some species of birds don’t make their own nests. They simply go around laying eggs in the nests of other birds.

Examples of this are the brown-headed cowbird and the cuckoo bird. Some mothers will recognize intruder eggs and reject them. 

Some, however, do not. They will hatch and be raised as a member of that “family.” In the event that the “foster” bird is a larger species, they may overpower the smaller babies and hog the food. This can be detrimental to smaller babies.


They Usually Migrate Alone

Despite requiring lots of guidance and protection in their early days, young birds tend to migrate alone even though they’ve never done it before. This is surprising as migrating can be intense and perilous. 

By the time they are ready to go, however, their fully developed adult parents have probably already left.

Therefore, young birds must rely on their instincts and the lessons they learned as babies in order to survive. Often, they end up hundreds or even thousands of miles away from their parents. 


Things To Do When You Find A Baby Bird

If you happen to find a baby bird in the hatchling or fledgling stage that has fallen out of the nest, it’s a good idea to return it safely, if you can. If the bird is close to an existing nest, it’s safe to assume that’s where it came from. 

It’s a popular myth that parents will be able to tell that you’ve touched a baby bird and will reject it as a result.

In truth, birds don’t have a great sense of smell, so they won’t know that you’ve touched the bird to return it to the nest. 

However, if you’re worried about contaminating yourself, you can wear some gloves just to be safe. 

If the bird you’ve found is in the fledgling stage (able to hop and walk around), then the best thing you can do is leave it.

Even if they look a little awkward, they’re able to move around themselves, and chances are, the parents are close by. If you think the bird is in any immediate danger from predators or surrounding activity, you can put it in a bush or close to a nearby tree. 

Lastly, whatever you choose to do about the baby bird you’ve found, do not take it home with you. Not only is it difficult to raise a wild baby bird on your own, but it’s illegal in most places.

Even if the bird survives your attempt to raise it, it won’t survive if released back into the wild as it won’t have learned the right lessons or developed the right instincts. 


Frequently Asked Questions:
Short Answers

What is the correct name for a baby bird?

An easier, shorter name for “baby bird” is “chick.” This is the same across all species of birds. Alternatively, some people refer to baby birds as hatchlings as well, though this only represents the earliest stage of development. 


Can a baby bird survive on its own?

Typically, a baby bird won’t survive without its mother. That being said, even if a bird or nest seems to be abandoned, make sure to watch it for a while before doing anything because parents often fly in and out quickly when on the hunt for food. 


What do you feed a baby bird that fell out of its nest?

If you’ve found a baby bird out of its nest, it’s actually best if you don’t feed it. Either put it back in the nest or wait for the parents to come back and help it. If anything, you can offer it a dish of plain fresh water. 

If you believe the baby bird has been abandoned, call your local wildlife professionals. They will know what to do and how to feed the bird without harming it. Baby birds can survive without food for about 24 hours. 


Can baby birds eat bread?

No, baby birds should not eat bread under any circumstances. Baby birds have extremely sensitive systems and an extremely specific diet. The best thing to do is to leave their feeding to their parents. 

Bread can be very toxic to baby birds and will only do more harm than good. Not only that, but if ducks that live in highly populated areas are fed bread and other human food regularly, they may become accustomed to it.

This can result in aggression towards humans, which is dangerous for everyone involved. 

It can also cause them to rely less on their own instincts. If this happens, they may not get enough of their proper diet, meaning less nutrition, and they can fall ill.