May 15, 2019 | Featured Web Article

The Stages of Bird Life

A bluebird baby is being fed toasted mealworms. This baby is one of a clutch, five of which hatched in a nest box placed in the photographer's backyard.
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It's baby bird season! You'll often hear such words as chick, juvenile, fledgling, and nestling used to refer to young birds, but they don't all refer to the same stage within a bird's life cycle. It can be confusing to try to figure out which term refers to which stage, and even a few historical ornithological documents have gotten it wrong. However, we've rounded up the correct terms used within traditional ornithology to describe the baby birds you might see this spring.

Hatchling

Purple martins typically lay four to five pure white eggs in a nest of leaves, twigs, debris, and mud. —Cyndie H., Cortland, OH

A hatchling is, essentially, a bird that's just hatched from its egg. It will continue being a hatchling until it stops relying on its yolk supply for nutrition, or when it becomes capable of regulating its body temperature on its own.

Nestling

These familiar backyard thrushes nest in a wide variety of places, including trees, shrubs, gutters, light fixtures, and porches. —Linda J., Blanchard, ND

Once a hatchling begins to rely on its parents for nutrition and can self-regulate its temperature, a bird becomes a nestling. Nestlings are unable to fly and spend their days living solely within the nest.

Chick

These eight young wood ducks are sticking close to Mom (and to each other!). —Kim G., Galloway, OH

When a young bird leaves the nest and can walk in a family group (as you might see among waterfowl and galliformes), it is considered to be a chick. Note that young birds still cannot fly at this stage.

Fledgling

The fledgling stage begins when a young bird can finally fly. However, it is still not completely independent, and continues to rely on its parents for care and nourishment.

Juvenile

The juvenile stage in a bird's life is marked by its first plumage without downy feathers. The feathers at this stage are soft, wear away quickly, and will not last into adulthood. At this time, the bird is still sexually immature and unable to breed.

Immature

Once a bird is capable of breeding, and after it has molted its soft feathers and replaced it with hard ones, it is considered immature. The new plumage at this stage is markedly different in color or pattern from that of adults. Note that not every species of bird goes through the immature (also known as “subadult”) stage. Many birds proceed directly from the juvenile stage to adulthood.

Adult

If a bird is capable of breeding and maintains a plumage that does not change with successive molts, or it follows a distinct breeding/nonbreeding plumage pattern across seasons, then it can be considered an adult.



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  • Scrub Jay's are the best!!!
    by Iris Delgado, Thu, 09 May 2019
  • How can I separate nyler seeds from hulls finshes kick out? They toss out so much expensive seed along with the hulls of the seeds they have eaten. How can I separate them so I can return the still whole seeds back into the feeder?
    by Seen From Here, Sat, 04 May 2019
  • We had some cases of what I think was avian trichomonosis here this summer in central NY. Are you hearing anything about that? My understanding is that even the hawks can get it from consuming infected song birds.
    by D.Mac, Sat, 04 May 2019
  • I have experienced this when a house wren punctured 5 blue bird eggs last spring in our blue bird box. Then I hung out a wren box by the trees and he got busy filling it and left the bluebirds alone and they successfully raised another brood!
    by Susan, Sun, 07 Apr 2019
  • I also have several turkeys that live in the woods behind me. They visit early morning and near sundown. Living in the country with a mountain and brook behind my house, I have animals visiting 24hrs a day. My turkeys are awesome. They know me and wait for their breakfast. They hop up on my patio wall to look in my windows. I also noticed the 2 birds that are the lookouts. They come over to eat as the others march across my lawn to my neighbor who also feeds the animals. We also have coyotes that, I am sure, have eaten turkey dinner. The squirrels run around and chase them to protect their seeds and cracked corn. I feed my 3 raccoons peanut butter jelly sandwiches, which they share with a possum and 3 skunks, at the same time, by the way. No food goes into my garbage. Meat scraps go to crows and hawks. Everything else, even soup, gets eaten before the sun is completely set. That keeps bears away if no dishes are there to entice. I break up bread in tiny pieces now and turkeys 'gobble' it up. So happy to find another person that enjoys wildlife. Nothing is more satisfying than walking out side and spotting Daisy the skunk, calling her name and watching her tripping all over herself, running to meet you. Thank you for your valuable information.
    by Stella Kachur, Wed, 27 Mar 2019