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.
Share:

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.



What do you think? Tell us!

comments powered by Disqus

New On This Site

The Latest Comments

  • I live in Southeastern Massachusetts. Four "orphaned" very young poults (males) showed up in my yard about a year ago. They have been around all year. I do feed them cracked corn, and they come when I call for them. I don't want to over- domesticate them, but they do recognize me as the lady that brings food. They roost in the big oak trees at night. I have a 1 acre lot, with many acres of protected forest out back and a pond on the property.Lately, during mating season, I have had hens in the yard too. We've counted as many as 7 Toms and hens, but today, had just the one stalwart (a very robust Tom) that comes everyday. One of the Toms that has recently made an appearance is wounded, limping with an obvious predator wound. The local wildlife experts say he should make a full recovery, and that he's best left to recover with his flock.I find them to be interesting and beautiful birds.
    by Heather Cole, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • You have to put food in it.
    by Truckee Man, Mon, 06 Apr 2020
  • Love listeningto both songs and calls from birds in our woody neighborhood. The two types of birds I immediately recognize are the cardinals and the chickadees. Yesterday afternoon too, I heard a woodpecker. Then it’s time to check the birdfeeders and the birdbath. Then In no time at all the cardinals and chickadees arrive, as if they had been watching me. As it gets busier around the feeders, I also hear thé screeching of the blue jays. I even saw a couple of robins checking out our lawn....spring has arrived as the last pat gesofisticeerde snow and ice melt away.
    by louisabt, Sun, 08 Mar 2020
  • I am wondering about existing nests for Phoebes. I have two outdoor aisle entries to my barn and there are old Phoebe nests up. They ignore them each year and build new nests adjacent to the old, but space is running out. Should I knock down the old nests so they can rebuild?
    by [email protected], Sun, 02 Feb 2020
  • Just wondering, should we put anything in the bottom of the box...twigs, clippings, leaves....anything at all?
    by Hebb, Tue, 28 Jan 2020