Why Do Birds Kill Their Babies


Bird Infanticides: Why some birds commit the worst sin

It is quite common among the bird species that some parents kill their own offspring. This act of infanticide has been observed in a variety of birds, including owls, eagles, gulls, and even passerines. One theory behind this behavior is resource competition; killing their own chicks could provide them with better access to food or other resources such as nesting sites.

Moreover, certain social conditions may alter the likelihood of chicks being killed by their parents such as parental experience, availability of resources and ecosystem changes. If times are tough, birds are inclined to reject and kill hatchlings or nestlings which can be seen as severe but essential parenting techniques for survival.

In one case study undertaken by Australian scientists on Magpie bird species, it was found that adult magpies would target Magpie babies that engaged in high-pitched begging calls than low-pitched ones during a food shortage period. This study highlights the astounding nature of how these intelligent creatures learn advanced tricks to ensure their survival in challenging environments.

Looks like mama bird didn’t read the parenting book, ‘How to Raise a Murderer‘.

Reasons why birds kill their babies

Competition for resources

Birds may kill their own offspring due to the fierce competition for resources, such as food and shelter, needed for survival. This is a natural occurrence and a strategy used by some species to maximize the chances of survival for the rest of their offspring.

Competition for Resources Columns
Resource Type Examples
Food Insect larvae, seeds, small animals
Nesting Sites Tree holes, crevices, burrows
Water Ponds, streams, puddles

In addition to nutrition and shelter, birds may also eliminate eggs or chicks that are sickly or weak to prevent the spread of disease or prevent predators from being attracted to the nest. This behavior is also observed in cases when parents accidentally damage eggs during incubation or when supplies of resources are limited.

To reduce the risk of infanticide by birds in your backyard birdhouse, provide ample sources of food and water as well as suitable nesting sites. Keep nest boxes clean to avoid attracting parasites that may negatively affect the health of baby birds.

Create a harmonious environment where adult birds feel comfortable raising their young without unnecessary stressors. By providing proper resources and conditions, you can help increase successful broods while reducing unwanted aggression towards offspring.

If it weren’t for genetic defects, we wouldn’t have half the murder mysteries in the avian world.

Genetic defects

Birds have been known to kill their babies due to certain genetic abnormalities. These defects may cause the young chicks to have physical or cognitive disabilities that hinder their survival in the wild. The severity of these defects may vary, with some birds unable to fend for themselves while others simply cannot properly digest food.

In some cases, a parent bird may kill their offspring out of mercy as they know the chick will not survive on its own. This behavior is not necessarily caused by aggression but rather a natural instinct to protect their family, even if it means ending one life for the greater good.

Interestingly, some species of birds exhibit altruistic behavior by sacrificing an unhealthy chick so that its siblings can thrive. This selfless act ensures that the strongest offspring survives and carries on their genetic lineage.

One such example is the blackbird; in Germany, researchers observed a mother blackbird retching up food and feeding it to her chicks. However, she would only feed two of her three chicks. The third chick was noticeably smaller than its siblings and had trouble competing for food. After a few days, the mother bird killed the smallest chick and fed it to her other two healthy chicks. It is believed that this behavior ensured the survival of her fittest offspring.

If you thought Hitchcock’s ‘The Birds’ was horror enough, wait till you hear about the ruthless parenting tactics of some bird species.

Predation risk

Birds Abandoning their Young Ones Due to the Threat of Predators

The survival of newborn birds at risk is not only contingent upon getting enough food and warmth from their parents, but also on how well they can evade predators. In some cases abandoning a young one may be instrumental in increasing the chances of survival for its sibling(s). In situations characterized by severe predation threats, bird parents would rather abandon some of their offspring instead of exposing all their young ones to danger.

Birds that nest in areas that are easily accessible to predators such as cats, rats and squirrels often get forced into this situation. The resulting predator attacks and killings cause stress and distress among parents making it challenging for them to take care of all their offspring. This explains why in extreme cases, bird parents might engage in siblicide, killing one or more chicks for the sake of sparing others.

What triggers bird parents to be so selective about which chicks survive under predator threat? One possible reason is because younger chicks are naturally weaker and hence easier targets for predators. Also, having fewer young means better utilization of resources ensuring that those spared have a higher likelihood to mature than when sharing resources with too many siblings.

Pro Tip: Providing bird parents who cannot move nesting locations safe enclosure can increase offspring survival probabilities by reducing contact with potential predators while limiting any evasive efforts.

Looks like the stork isn’t always the bearer of good news, especially when it comes to infanticide in the bird world.


The act of avian parents killing their offspring is known as filial cannibalism. This rare phenomenon occurs for a variety of reasons, including competition for resources, inadequate nesting conditions, or the recognition of genetic defects. Additionally, infanticide can occur as a result of adaptations to harsh environmental circumstances such as drought or food scarcity.

Furthermore, some species exhibit a “brood reduction” behavior where they selectively kill weaker or smaller hatchlings to ensure the survival of their stronger siblings. Often referred to as “siblicide,” this sibling rivalry can occur in species such as hawks and storks.

Interestingly, some birds also engage in altruistic behavior by sacrificing an offspring for the greater good of the brood. These selfless acts can increase reproductive success by increasing the number of surviving offspring while simultaneously reducing resource competition.

A fascinating example of avian infanticide comes from the cliff swallow population in Nebraska. Researchers discovered that male swallows sometimes kill unrelated chicks in neighboring nests to reduce competition for food sources within their own community.

According to ornithologists and biologists studying these phenomena, filial cannibalism is more common among waterfowl and predatory birds than non-predators. Bird parents employ a wide range of tactics when it comes to ensuring their offspring’s survival, even if that means ending it themselves. Looks like these birds take home invasion seriously, even if it’s their own babies.

Territory defense

The defense of their territory is one of the reasons why birds act aggressively and may resort to killing their own offspring. This behavior is driven by their need to protect their nesting area, food sources, and mates from perceived threats.

  • Birds are fiercely protective of their nests and will attack anything, or anyone they perceive as a threat. Even if it’s one of their own young that has strayed too far from the nest.
  • In some species, the male bird will kill its own chicks if it suspects that they are not its genetic offspring. This ensures that only its genes are passed on to future generations.
  • Competition for resources such as food and nesting materials can also cause birds to become territorial, leading them to attack other birds in the vicinity. In extreme cases, this may result in infanticide when they confront the offspring of rival parents.

As a result of these behaviors, chicks may fall prey to territorial aggression between adult birds. Additionally, research has shown that infanticidal behavior is most common in certain types of environments where food shortages and intense competition take place.

It’s crucial to understand these natural instincts while observing bird behavior during nesting season. Otherwise, we risk interfering or disrupting bird habitats without realizing the consequences. By respecting and preserving natural habitats, we can help protect these incredible creatures from unnecessary harm and maintain biodiversity in our ecosystem.

When it comes to infanticide, certain bird species prove that sometimes the apple falls far from the nest.

Species-specific examples of infanticide


Adélie and gentoo penguins also exhibit this damaging behavior. Adélies often kill other parent’s offspring or abandon their nests if they cannot raise more chicks. On the other hand, gentoo parents reject and intentionally push away weaker or sickly chicks from their nests.

It is worth noting that this destructive behavior mainly occurs due to overcrowding or limited resources. Conservationists have suggested creating more protected lands for these enchanting birds to prevent future threats of extinction.

Pro Tip: When visiting penguin colonies, maintain a safe distance and avoid disrupting breeding sites as human presence can trigger unnecessary stress in these vulnerable creatures.

Who knew owls were such wise guys? They’ll murder each other’s babies if it means their own offspring have a better chance at survival.


The following table shows infanticidal behavior in owls by species:

Species Infanticidal Behavior
Snowy Owl Males may kill unrelated nestlings to increase chances of their own offspring surviving
Great Horned Owl Uses its talons to grab and drop young from the nest
Barn Owl Females may kill weaker nestlings to focus resources on stronger siblings

In addition, studies suggest that infanticide in owls is not only limited to competing for resources but can also be a form of mate replacement or lack of experience in parenting. It is interesting to note how such behavior differs among various owl species.

To ensure the survival and protection of owls and other wildlife, it is crucial to continue research efforts and understanding of their behavior. The conservation of their habitats is equally important as well. Let us take care of our environment and prevent the loss of such magnificent creatures.

Don’t miss out on learning more about fascinating animals like owls and stay updated with research developments. Join hands in promoting wildlife conservation, ensuring a better future for our planet.

Why buy a cat when you can watch sparrows commit infanticide for free?


The reproductive strategy of sparrows involves infanticide, where males of the species may engage in nestling destruction to increase their own chances of mating. Sparrows have been observed engaging in this behavior in both the wild and captivity, with some studies suggesting that the practice is more common when resources are limited.

Research has shown that infanticidal behavior may be linked to male competition for access to females and an increase in overall reproductive success. This species-specific example highlights the complex nature of animal behavior and illustrates the various factors that can contribute to reproductive strategies within a population.

Pro Tip: Infanticide is just one example of how animals adapt their behavior for increased reproductive success. Studying these behaviors provides insight into complex ecological systems and animal evolution. Raptors may be deadly hunters, but when it comes to their own offspring, they’re not exactly Parent of the Year material.


  • Harpy eagles tend to kill their own offspring if they are weak or sickly.
  • Golden eagles can harm or even kill siblings in the nest, leading to orphaned chicks.
  • Peregrine falcons may push weaker chicks out of the nest, causing them to perish.
  • Kestrels have been known to desert the weakest chick in their clutch.
  • Ospreys occasionally attack and kill chicks that are not theirs, possibly to eliminate competition for resources.

Birds of prey offer fascinating insights into nature’s cycle of life and death, with raptor parents often forced to make hard choices that seem cruel but ultimately promote the survival of their species.

Interested in learning more about bird behaviours? Check out our other articles on avian biology, ecology and behaviour. Stay curious!

Parental care may prevent infanticide, but let’s be real, sometimes even the best parenting can’t save you from your kid’s massive tantrums.

The role of parental care in preventing infanticide

The quality of parental care plays a significant role in preventing infanticide among birds. Birds with high-quality parental care ensure the survival of their offspring, reducing the likelihood of infanticide. This phenomenon is observed in bird species that invest energy and resources into raising their young to guarantee reproductive success.

Birds are known to kill their babies due to various reasons such as competition for resources, reduced parental involvement, or genetic incompatibility between parents. Parental care reduces these risks by providing adequate food supply, incubation, and protection from predators.

In some bird species, paternal care can contribute significantly to reducing infanticide risks. For example, male emus’ involvement in chick-rearing drastically reduces mortality rates caused by other males’ infanticidal tendencies.

Birds have adapted various unique strategies to prevent intraspecific killing of their offspring. As seen in some songbirds, coloring eggs with distinctive patterns restricts promiscuous behavior while facilitating mutual mate recognition.

The welfare of avian offspring heavily relies on parental care quality. In light of this knowledge, providing optimal conditions for birds’ breeding and rearing process must be upheld. Neglecting this responsibility may lead to increased fatalities during reproduction processes. Effective communication and managing knowledge on bird-care techniques among breeders will foster an environment where both parents and offspring thrive.

Looks like we’ve just scratched the surface of the dark side of mother nature… or in this case, mother bird.


The phenomenon of birds killing their offspring is known as ‘filial cannibalism‘ and has been observed in various bird species. This behavior may seem brutal and inexplicable, but it serves a purpose in the natural world.

Birds engage in filial cannibalism when they sense that their young are not developing properly or are unlikely to survive. By consuming the weaker chicks, the parents ensure that the stronger ones receive adequate resources to grow and thrive. This ultimately contributes to the survival and success of the species.

Some theories suggest that filial cannibalism may also be a form of population control, as excessive reproduction can strain limited resources. This behavior ensures that only the healthiest offspring survive and reduces competition for resources in the future.

It is important to note that not all bird species exhibit this behavior, and it tends to occur more frequently in certain circumstances such as overcrowding or food scarcity. Conservation efforts aimed at addressing these factors may help reduce instances of filial cannibalism.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Why do some birds kill their babies?

A: Some bird species may engage in infanticide as a way to ensure that only their strongest offspring survive and have a better chance of passing on their genes.

Q: Is it common for birds to kill their babies?

A: While it is not common for most bird species to kill their young, some species have been known to engage in this behavior.

Q: Does killing their own offspring go against a bird’s natural instincts?

A: Not necessarily, as natural selection favors behaviors that increase an animal’s chances of survival and passing on its genes.

Q: Can human intervention prevent birds from killing their babies?

A: It is generally not recommended to intervene in natural behaviors, as it could have unintended negative consequences for the bird population as a whole.

Q: Is there anything that can be done to prevent birds from killing their young?

A: One possible solution is to ensure that the bird’s environment is conducive to raising offspring, such as providing enough food sources and shelter.

Q: What can people learn from birds that kill their babies?

A: Observing and studying this behavior can offer insights into the complex evolutionary processes and behaviors that shape animal populations.

Julian Goldie - Owner of ChiperBirds.com

Julian Goldie

I'm a bird enthusiast and creator of Chipper Birds, a blog sharing my experience caring for birds. I've traveled the world bird watching and I'm committed to helping others with bird care. Contact me at [email protected] for assistance.