On our last trip, finally, we managed to catch some fledglings. We had been seeing them around for weeks, but as they didn’t seem to respond to playback, and they never flew the right direction when we tried to chase them into the net, we’d caught none.

On this last trip something had changed. No longer were all of the fledglings attended by their parents; instead, they formed foraging flocks of parents, attended fledglings, and apparently-independent fledglings. Attended fledglings are hard to catch because their parents lead them away from danger. Independent fledglings, it turns out, aren’t so careful. We set up the net where we observed the flock foraging, and within ten minutes the juncos drifted back into the area and resumed foraging.

BOAR was the first fledgling we caught.


He was molting his head feathers, transitioning from streaky juvenile to adult-looking bird.

The rough patch on his head is an area of new feathers growing in

Notice the streakiness in his head and the darkness of his bill: those are both ways that we can tell he is a juvenile.

Not long after we released BOAR, a fledgling flew up and landed on top of our net. Cheeky bird! It just about drove me crazy to see him sitting there, so close to being captured and yet uncapturable. Fortunately for my blood pressure, as soon as he took flight he flew into the net and we got him.

We banded him OORA because that seemed braggy and overconfident—a good name for a bird that would land on a net, then get caught in it.


He hadn’t yet started to molt, so he looks like the standard junco juvenile: tan, streaky, no sharply contrasting colors.

Unfortunately for him, he had feather mites. He was the first bird we’ve caught this summer to have visible feather mites. Feather mites eat feathers; birds defend against them by bathing in water and dust and by preening. Maybe OORA hasn’t learned proper hygiene yet.

Little tan dots on the second and third wing feathers out from the body are feather mites.

Despite his cockiness and his mites, possibly my favorite junco picture this season is of OORA.

Look at those tail feathers! Juvenile juncos grow their “adult” tail feathers right away, and don’t molt them until the next fall. Those are the tail feathers OORA will use to woo females and compete with males next spring, if he is male.

The last fledgling we caught this trip flew into the net while we were using playback to try to catch an adult male.

Jennifer holding ABBE


27 thoughts on “Fledglings!

  1. I thought the photos were spectacular until I realized that you were catching the birds. As a retired wildlife rehabber, I’m wondering why you are catching them? Fledglings have a hard enough time surviving and learning the ropes of life without the added interference of being caught and handled. What is the reason that you do that?

    • Great to hear from a rehabber! I’m studying juncos for my PhD research, looking at how they have adapted to differences in climate at different elevations and over time. I catch them so I can measure them and put colored leg bands on, so that I can later observe them from a distance and know who I’m watching.
      I definitely agree that their lives are tough already, and I would never stress them out without a good reason (and all the proper permits)! We handle them for just a few minutes, and though it would be better not to handle them at all, I think it’s worth it in the long run if it adds to our understanding of how to live with and conserve birds. (And, research suggests that such brief handling times don’t reduce their survival chances.)

      • Thank you for taking the time to explain fully what you are doing. I’m very reassured that you have the proper permits, and a good reason for catching them, which may lead to greater understanding of birds. Good luck with your work, and thank you for caring about the birds!

      • I’m glad that question was asked as I was a little concerned too. Nicely explained about what your work is in gathering data on these treasures. I love the photos, especially the last one, it’s stunning. Thanks for this:)

  2. This post caught my eye because my kids had been happily observing a nest of robins on the deck next to our house. My kid said, “They grow up so fast.” One died and we found it at the foot of our steps, the other left the nest perhaps too early and was stuck on the neighbor’s deck (which is full of debris and hard to navigate). We got close enough to it to get it to fly to a safer place. The momma bird returned with food for her babies who were gone. It was so sad. Later we watched as the momma found her baby in nearby bush and brought it food. All that to say that your post was right on time!!

  3. It’s really very pretty! They are fascinating! I too was going to ask why actually you are catching them when you can simply see them and take photographs, but you already answered that! :) Looking forward for some more pictures!! :)

  4. Speaking as a total non-scientist, what a lovely post / blog! You make what you do accessible and appealing — what a skill.
    Looking forward to seeing more.

  5. A great post! Not too much data for a layperson to grasp, supported by excellent and touching pictures. Having spent eight winters in E. Canada, juncos have a special place in my heart. Stunning little birds.

  6. Pingback: Fledglings! | pranaynaini

  7. Pingback: Fledglings! « Splashducks at Urban Farm Sanctuary

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