The fledgling problem

EDIT 5/26/2016: If you found this post because you have a baby bird and are wondering what to do with it, please see this post instead; it will be more useful.

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Being a fledgling—a chick that has left the nest—is awkward.

Junco fledgling MAII illustrates the awkwardness via interpretive dance.

Junco fledgling MAII illustrates the awkwardness via interpretive dance.

Fledglings are at one of the most dangerous time in their lives, facing an average mortality rate of 42% over just a week or two. Most of that mortality happens early, just after the little guys have left the nest. New fledglings have almost no skills: they can’t feed themselves, can’t fly well (or, in many cases, at all) and can’t do anything to defend themselves if something terrifying like a weasel, snake, crow, or even chipmunk decides to eat them.

So why do they fledge at all? Because staying in the nest would be even more dangerous. A flightless baby bird’s chief defense is being hidden, and a nest, while it is often hidden, has disadvantages. After two weeks of the parents feeding their chicks, there is a lot of evidence around indicating where the nest is: the nest will smell like bird; the parents will be in the area noticeably frequently; and if an intelligent predator like a Steller’s Jay gets the idea to watch parental movement, it will quickly learn where the nest is. A baby bird out of the nest can do better, as long as it is capable of running and perching, since it can change hiding places and can hide separately from its siblings.

Young junco fledgling hiding. Photo by Jeremy Spool.

Young junco fledgling hiding. Photo by Jeremy Spool.

Young fledglings tend to place all their hope in remaining unseen. Two young American Robins I encountered recently remained motionless even when I stuck a camera lens within inches of them, stoically hoping that I would believe that they were statues and go away.

2013_fledglings_robin2

American Robin fledgling

When I picked up one of them, it called for a moment, then reverted to its motionless act… in my hand.

2013_robin+me

Me with a different American Robin fledgling

You can't see me!

You can’t see me!

This seems silly, but it’s really the only strategy fledglings have before they can run fast or fly. Still, the robin seems to be extreme; fledgling juncos will not sit in your hand unrestrained.

ABEE: As soon as she lets go, I'm outta here.

ABEE: As soon as she lets go, I’m outta here.

Fortunately, fledglings—well, the ones who survive—outgrow this helplessness pretty quickly. Once they can fly, they are much safer, and their challenge becomes learning how to be a self-sufficient bird. I’ve written before about how fledglings learn to catch food, and it’s not a trivial matter: most mortality in young fledglings comes from predation, but in older fledglings, there is evidence for a second peak of mortality due to starvation.

But it isn’t enough to simply stay alive: fledglings have to turn into successful adult birds. So even while they’re hiding from predators and perfecting their foraging technique, they may also have to be learning their species’ song, noticing what a good breeding territory looks like, and forming social relationships. If they don’t, they may survive, but they may not successfully reproduce next year—and reproduction is what counts in natural selection.

Junco fledgling AGYL thinks that is too many things to do at once.

Junco fledgling AGYL thinks that is too many things to do at once.

All of that is a lot for a young bird to handle. But there is one thing that can make it all easier: parental care. Parents feed fledglings and show them where to find food on their own; they warn of and even attack predators, and guide fledglings to safe places. An extra week of parental care can halve the mortality rate for fledglings.

This is where the fledgling problem—how to survive with no skills while rapidly acquiring said skills—also becomes an adult problem. The parents can dramatically increase their fledglings’ changes of survival, but at a cost. Caring is expensive. Any moment spent caring for a fledgling isn’t spent fattening up for the winter, or starting the next brood of chicks, or any other beneficial activity. Parents have to decide how long to care, and it’s a tricky problem. (I wrote more on this parent-offspring conflict here.)

So next time you see a scruffy bird with fuzzy eyebrows and a yellow gape, you can still think it looks silly (they do!), but also think about the challenges it and its parents face. The fledgling period is a complex and fascinating time.

Older junco fledgling RONA

Older junco fledgling RONA

Note: most of what I’ve said applies to temperate altricial birds. Tropical birds and precocial birds (e.g. ducklings) will be a somewhat different story.

References:

A lot, and I really need to program some temperature loggers now, so I’m not going to list them out at the moment. There’s been tons of really neat work on fledglings. If you’re wondering about a specific thing, let me know and I’ll tell you the source. I’ll try to fill in this section properly next time I get a free moment.

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81 thoughts on “The fledgling problem

  1. I love your photography, and the way you describe things in such a way that I don’t have to be a biologist to understand your explanations. Thanks!

  2. Extraordinary that “an extra week of parental care can halve the mortality rate.” That seems an easy choice for the parent–but I understand your point, that it depends on what they have to give up that week. Thanks for providing references to your other writing. (And for striking red background to robin fledgling!) Still don’t see why their eyebrows are so huge.

  3. Love these photos – and the descriptions of fledgling life.
    I get very attached to the nesting bird families in my garden. I’m convinced the robins actually know that when they spot a lurking cat, if they raise a ruckus, I’ll come running out of the house and chase the cats away. The robins seem to perch in the tree above, cheering me on, then they swoop down just as the cat is running, as if they were chasing him themselves.

  4. Pingback: Mockingbird Fledgling | Creative Musings of Ledia Runnels

  5. Thank you so much for this post. I just had a little drama with a nest of juncos under the eaves of our house that I believe was disturbed by roof rats. I thought they were all lost, then noticed in the nearby garden one fledgling with a yellow gape and hardly anything but stubs for tail feathers. I thought for sure it was too young to be out of the nest but I can see from these photos that the bird is right on time. Plus the parents were nearby and not at all happy with me for snooping around. Whew. I’m wishing them well and leaving them be.

    • Oh dear – I’m glad at least one made it! Juncos can leave the nest quite young if they’re in danger. One of the nests at my field site got stepped on by cows, and two of the chicks, although very young, managed to flee and were raised just fine by their parents. The parents being near where you saw the chick and mad at you are an EXCELLENT sign!

  6. i had to put a fledgling back in the nest to save it-there are so many stray cats here and one was sitting right in front of it -it was using it like a toy and the mother bird was going crazy screaming at the cat but couldnt help the baby -there was so safe place to put it where a cat or my neighbors dog coiuldnt get it since i think the dog already got one-i watched this mother bird take care of these babies and even today with the fledging watched her try to show it how to get up on the fence but the baby kept hopping and ended up by a stray cat-i dont know what to do to save it and feel bad that i dont think any of then will survive.

    • That sounds tough to watch, Teresa, I’m sorry. Cats are a real problem for fledglings. If you can find anywhere with enough brush that the fledgling can hide, that would be a good place to put it; hiding is probably its best bet. If the fledgling can make it a few more days, either by hiding or by being defended by kind people like you, it will be able to fly and better at escaping. Best of luck in your fledgling-defense and I hope some of them do make it!

  7. I discovered a nest outside my bedroom window and enjoyed watching from inside the house as the mother and father bird fed their young. I woke up one morning and discovered a cat with the dead mother bird in her mouth. I was really worried for the babies but was happy when I discovered the father bird was still feeding them. A few days after I woke up to lots of noisy, hungry baby birds screaming out. After watching the nest for a long time I realised that the father bird must have succumbed to the cat also. I decided I would have to take over with the feeding of them. I did some research on what to feed and soaked cat food and cooked and cooled it, I also gave them boiled egg and mealworms cut up, all from tweezers, which they readily took from me. I continued to feed them every 30 – 45 mins from sunrise to sunset and they continued to thrive. Well last night I noticed that they had hopped out of their nest and were sitting on the banister next to the nest. I thought to myself it wouldn’t be long until they would leave the nest. I was right, I woke up this morning and they were all gone. I looked everywhere for them but they were nowhere to be seen. Now I wish I had taken them inside and put them in a box because I don’t know how they could survive without me feeding them. I figured they would hang around the backyard and I could continue to feed them. I didn’t want to imprint them too much as I knew that it could make it harder for them to survive in the wild. I’m feeling really sad about the whole thing as they were healthy strong little birds and now I don’t even know where they are or if they are alright.

    • Hi Deanna,

      I’m sorry to agree with you that they probably don’t have much chance without parental care as fledglings, especially in such a cat-haunted area. Caring for baby birds is tricky. In the future I’d urge you to find out where your closest wildlife rehabilitator is and bring any orphaned or injured birds to them: they’re trained to raise birds without imprinting, and know how to care for them so that they can be released happy and healthy. Too, if you’re interested, look into becoming a licensed wildlife rehabilitator yourself, or volunteering with your local rehabber. I think we owe it to the animals to get them help that is as expert as possible, and in cases like these, the experts are wildlife rehabbers.

      As for this nest, try to treasure the time you had with the chicks, and know that at least you gave them the gift of a little extra time.

  8. Hello, there – I am hoping that perhaps you could answer a question for me. We were intently observing a family of mockingbirds (mom, dad and two babies) who took up residence in a bush at the front of our house. We did our best not to disturb them and kept our distance so mom and dad could do their exhaustive work of feeding and guarding their babies without having to worry about us humans stressing them out. We took particular care to keep our two cats in the house, especially while they were nesting and when the two babies left the nest. The cats seemed pretty intimidated by these mockery but we were to taking any chances. We noticed that in the two days after the babies left the nest, we could still hear them in bushes behind our house and also across the street. It appeared one baby wound up across the street with dad and the other hung back for a day but wound up in our back yard with mom. We could see that mom and dad were still feeding their babies while they hid in the bushes and they were still keeping a watchful eye on them. I found it reassuring to hear the sounds of the babies calling out to their parents in the two days after they left their nest because it meant they were still alive. I marveled at the parents constant work and patience and wondered how long thy could keep it up because these babies were still so very helpless and vulnerable to other predators, including larger birds. Around three days after the first baby left the nest, I no longer heard the sound of them and I no longer saw any sign of the babies OR the parents. It’s like the whole family just disappeared altogether. The yard seems eerily quiet and kind of lonely now, especially after all the constant chatter and activity that had been taking place while they were nesting. I understand that the babies will practice their flying skills for several days after they leave the nest but is it normal for the babies AND parents to disappear altogether somewhere around day three of this process? I’m hoping that it’s possible they found a more interesting place to hang out but deep down I’m afraid something may have happened to the babies or worse, the entire family. I’ve seen no sign of “foul play” anywhere in the yard but I’m still not reassured that all is well for this beautiful family of mockers. Any input you could share about what may have come of them would be greatly appreciated. Thanks so much.

    • Hi Chrissie,
      It’s impossible to know for sure what happened. It may be, as you fear, that both chicks got eaten. However, it’s also very possible that the parents simply moved the family somewhere else. Depending on how old the chicks were when they fledged, day 3 may have been the day that they were able to fly well enough to be moved far away. Or maybe the parents had a close call with a cat, crow, hawk, etc. and decided it would be better to go somewhere else. If your backyard isn’t the only good habitat around, then I think it’s definitely possible that they moved out.
      Also, regarding your fear that something may have happened to the whole family: you can be pretty confident that the parents are okay, I think. If both chicks died, the parents would either leave or behave unobtrusively again; your not seeing them doesn’t mean they’ve died.
      I do think there’s a good chance that everyone is okay. I completely sympathize with your frustration over not knowing!

  9. My question is regarding the time when fledglings first leave the nest. Some finches just hatched outside my bedroom window on the third floor of an apt building. Other than the rail the nest is on, there are no branches or other perching areas and it is a straight drop down to a concrete area. Will the baby birds be able to safely get down from the nest as they transition from nestling to fledgling? Baby birds are awesome, I would love it if they get a fair chance at a birds life.

  10. I found a baby mocking bird in texas about 10 days ago. Eyes closed, bald! He is now perching on his hanging basket and jumping into the large box he’s in. When should I trybto releade him. I live in the country…..lots of predators!

  11. Thanks so much for the information on fledgings! I helped some young fledgings, mother was solid blue, get through a severe thunderstorm by placing them in a warm, dry, protected place. The mother fed them the entire time. One was able to fly, but the other wasn’t as advanced. One morning they were all gone. We had them for 2 nights. I am wondering HOW LONG before a fledging can fly? Is is a matter of hours? days? weeks? I got attached to them and I’m worried. Thanks.

  12. How far do fledgling robins travel from their original nest? I found an uninjured fledgling on the road in a residential area and there was little to no groubd vegetation, but high tree cover. I had to move the bird approx 75 yards away to find shrubs and trees. Will the parents find it?

  13. Thanks for the article, and everyone’s comments. That said, not mentioning cats in the article, in your list of predators is to me bordering on “criminal”. Cats are one of the greatest dangers to baby birds (and adults as well), killing approximately 2 billion birds in the US every year, so they belong on that list (and people need to be aware of it… including irresponsible cat owners). What we really need IMO are more predators to keep the marauding “pet” and feral cats under control… On a lighter note, you were wondering and commenting on the tendency of Robins and some other fledglings to become still like statues, since they have no other defense. It’s definitely a survival strategy, but I also think it’s due to being TERRIFIED!! As in the saying, “petrified with fear”. And that is one of the basic survival techniques of living beings-fight, flight, or freeze (and hope you’re not noticed, or don’t attract attention. Even a cat that freezes is less likely to be chased by a dog than one who runs away! And of course, being a strategy for surviving, and being “petrified” (ie, turned to stone) are not mutually exclusive.

  14. Thanks for the article! I am lucky enough to have wrens nest in some of my nesting boxes every year. They keep coming back so must think it’s safe! The male when he is searching for a mate is so full of beautiful song. I cannot get over how loud they are for such a tiny bird! They are fierce protective little devils, and woe betide me when setting up my cushions on my deck swing for a nice sit with my first coffee of the day. They give new meaning to the phrase – parting your hair! They do! Literally – if I dare to even venture near their end of the deck. I am lucky enough not to have any cats (been there, done that phase) and now have dogs. Two medium sized Blue Heelers, and an 11lb Chihuahua. The activity has been quite wearing. How the Wren parents cope, I haven’t a clue. Between feeding all 4 (I think) little gaping mouths and picking up and flying off with little white poop packets, they must be worn out. They are a joy to watch. I have missed fledging every year as Ma and Pa are very clever and wait until my menagerie and I are safely indoors before initiating their brood to the joys of flying. Luckily I have a very large stand of Lilacs right next to my deck, so after negotiating from nesting box to deck rail….the Lilac is right there. They hide in there for several days, while their parents chide me for daring to step out onto my own deck. Then go about the business of feeding their fluttering little brood and no doubt explaining the meaning of life!. No cats in our area due to the nasty Fisher-cats that hang out in the local forest that decimate the cat population. The amount of cats that go missing in our area is notorious. I really feel for the pet owners, but new residents don’t do their homework, otherwise there would be a lot of indoor kitties! My dogs, luckily are only interested in Squirrels and Chipmunks, so if a yellow-billed little fledger were to hop around on the deck, and they made a move….I would be on them in a hurry!! It is a joy and a privilege that they come back every year….despite me, my swing and my rather noisy dogs.

    • I certainly do envy your daily activities with these beautiful creatures. Animals and birds around me all day would dwelve me into mother nature’s essence. Thank you for sharing.

  15. I wonder if you could help me? What would be the usual reason for an uninjured, fledgling American Robin to die? Thanks

    • Hi Stephen,
      Do you mean in the wild or in the care of a rehabilitator? In the wild, an uninjured fledgling robin would be most in danger from predators (cats, corvids, weasels, etc.). Depending on how long its parents fed it, and how much food was available in the area, it might also be at risk of dying of starvation. Disease is a possibility, but I don’t know enough about that to guess how likely it is.
      If you mean a fledgling in the care of a human, it’s most likely to die due to being fed incorrectly, due to the stress of captivity, or… well, fledglings in human care don’t have a great survival rate, and I’m not sure we entirely know why. They may have a developmental defect (which may be why their parents stopped caring for them). A wildlife vet would know much better than I would.

  16. Might you have a suggestion? Last spring we had a robin’s nest in the eaves of our front porch, about 7-8 feet above a cement walkway. Sadly over the period of about a week we found 3 dead baby birds on the cement, trying to leave the nest but landing on the concrete (our family witnessed the first one while watching from the window, not expecting it to fall to its death). The parents are back and building another nest, is there something we can construct to help soften the fall for the fledglings this year?

    • I placed a twin sized mattress foam padding going down the stairs. not sure how it will work as i couldn’t place it well as momma attacked me over and over trying to help. was given information from wildlife sanctuary to put outside seat cushions but too expensive. will reply once i see if it works.

  17. My friend took a baby fleding bird home because he fort it was injured, he researched more about it and found out it was fledging, then put it back were he found it with plenty of bread and worm’s around it also small pieces of apple. I’m wondering will the mother leave it or will she still continue to look after it?

    • Hi Charley, yes! The parents will definitely look after it if your friend put it back where he’d found it (and it hadn’t been more than a day or so since he took it). The parents will be very happy to have their chick back and to care for it.

  18. I have 2 baby robins fledglings but no parents what do I do if they still need to learn skills and if I let them go will they make it on there own ?

  19. There’s a baby mocking bird in my yard. He’s pretty big, but you can tell he’s just a baby. He comes out and sits on the wood pile during the day and I put some food for him to eat. He does pick at the food, so he is eating. Is the mother around or is he on his own?

    • Hi Tamy,
      If he looks like a bird – covered in feathers, with no big patches of bare pink skin – then he’s old enough to be out of the nest and eating on his own. His parents are probably still around, but he may be transitioning to independence; depends how old he is (and how much energy/patience his parents had!). As long as he doesn’t get nabbed by someone’s pet cat or dog, he should be fine.

  20. I found a fledgling, probably a starling outside my gym a few days ago. Couldn’t place it anywhere as it was night time. Out of fear of it being eaten by cats, I brought it home and put it inside a cardboard box, enclosed on all sides, with punched holes around it. I fed it boiled eggs forcefully for the first day with a few drops of water rubbed at its beak. The next day, it started eating worms, so I fed it all the earthworms I could get every 2 hrs. It would tuck its head and take a nap after almost every meal. After I fed it in the evening, I perched it on a stick inside its box. It once again tucked its head and went off for the night. This morning, I couldn’t hear it chirping. So, I went to look at it, half asleep, only to find it dead below its perch. Now, I do not what I did wrong. I feel guilty about not letting it go all the time; but then, I do not even know if it’d survive outside on its own. I feel terrible about not caressing it in a proper manner. Even my mom keeps asking me if I did something wrong with it or if the cat had something to do with it. I do not know how a healthy and active bird would suddenly die this way. Could you give me some insight about it? After this loss, I’m planning to get an African Grey or a Cockatoo as my companion, as I’m too saddened by my loss. Thank you!

    • This is why it’s always best to contact certified wildlife rehabilitators. Caring for wild animals is very difficult; it’s too easy to make a mistake that is deadly for the animal (e.g., feeding the wrong thing or the wrong amount). A diet of purely boiled eggs and earthworms is not what a starling would normally eat, and probably caused problems. Also, if you were force feeding, you probably were feeding too much.
      Next time you find a fledgling, leave it where it is. Fledglings are meant to be outside the nest; they hide, and their parents feed them until they can fly. If a baby bird is covered in feathers, it does not need your help, even if it can’t fly yet: the parents will feed it until it grows up enough to fly. Please do not “rescue” baby birds unless they are 1) obviously too young, i.e. NOT covered in feathers, or 2) obviously injured.
      I’m sorry for your loss, and I know you meant well. Please use this as a learning experience and leave fledglings to their own lives next time.

      • No! I just force-fed it twice for the first day, that too just about 2 ccs, when it wouldn’t eat at first. The next day, it started eating worms on its own. Never once had to force-feed it. Assuming that it enjoyed worms and was opening its mouth every time it saw me, I continued feeding it. And also, I had no choice but to bring it home. It was night in a sub-urban area and the place was cat-infested. I just had the conclusion that maybe it was the cardboard box that killed him. But it had holes on all the sides for proper ventilation. Or does perching at night stress them out? I felt its crop too. It was fine. Thank you!

        P.S. – We don’t have wildlife rehabs here. People even don’t know what they are.

    • (Replying to your reply, but don’t seem to be able to nest comments any deeper) – okay, good that you weren’t force-feeding. Perching at night is fine. The bird probably thought it was strange that it was dark all the time, but I don’t think that would do physical harm. The worms may still have been a problem: birds usually get more varied diets, including more calcium (from insect exoskeletons) and other hard bits. Recommended diet mixes for baby birds (which are findable online from people who raise starlings, which it’s true that many wildlife rehabs won’t take because they’re invasive) generally include kibble soaked in water (plus various other things), which has more gritty bits than a worm, which probably makes digestion work better.
      Another possible issue is that you were feeding it too much. I know you say it was gaping, but here’s one of the many tricky things about baby birds – sometimes they keep gaping forever, even when they need to stop and digest. It’s possible to overfeed a very hungry-acting bird. Not all species do this, and I’m not sure if starlings do.
      It’s also quite possible that the bird died for a reason completely unrelated to you. In my field work I’ve seen chicks die in the nest for no clear reason, even though the parents were feeding them and their siblings were doing fine.
      I apologize for assuming that picking up the fledgling was the wrong move; it almost always is, but there are cases where it isn’t, and without knowing exactly the situation, I shouldn’t assume. I do encourage everyone to make not-picking-up-the-fledgling the default except in extreme circumstances, just to be safe. But you know your neighborhood: it may have been the right choice.
      Out of curiosity, where (generally speaking) are you, that you don’t have any wildlife rehabs?

      • Sorry, I couldn’t comprehend your starting statement about nesting comments. Well, now that you’ve given me a general idea about birds, I’ll make sure that I keep all these in mind while dealing with any birds in future. Also, there are 3 Bulbul fledglings nesting near my place. I’ll keep analyzing them. I’m in Sikkim – a kingdom some few years ago. Now, one of the most Eco-friendly and prosperous state of India. Wildlife, though not varied, are here in ample amounts. Just haven’t ever encountered a rehabber here, although forest rangers are a pretty common sight. Thank you for your detailed insight on my matter. I now have something less to worry about. Cheers!

  21. I’ve noticed that Robin parents tend to favor one baby in the nest they feed this one more so he grows quicker. Is that so it will leave the nest first and give the remaining babies more room.

    • Robins generally have chicks that are slightly different ages in the same nest. (E.g., a nest might have a 3-day-old, 2-day-old, and 1-day-old chick in it.) The older chicks will be bigger. Parents tend to feed the biggest chick most, probably because that chick is the best at pushing his siblings out of the way; but we do know that they also make an effort to feed the smaller chicks. Some people have hypothesized that having the staggered sizes of chicks spreads out the feeding demands on the parents, which is a similar idea to what you’ve proposed; we don’t really know if that’s true. It probably isn’t related to making more room in the nest, since the babies usually all leave the nest within the same 24 hrs. If the babies are looking crowded in the nest you’re observing, they’re probably going to fledge soon!

  22. Thanks for all your helpful information too. I too am sad today as I tried to “rescue” a robin fledgling last night. We have many coons and wild critters outside so I made a temporary nesting box for him trying to give him the best chance. Unfortunately I found him gone this morning. Apparently I didn’t locate the nesting box high enough and found a little blood spatter in the bottom of my box. I feel horrible – perhaps he would have had a better chance to survive had I left alone. I have learned . . . . unfortunately the hard way ;-( Poor little thing . . . .

    • Predation is a part of being a wild animal; if he was eaten, he may well have fed someone else’s babies. It’s hard to know what happened, though: fledglings do move around quite a bit sometimes. It’s possible he left on his own. (Fledglings don’t need a nest – they can just perch in shelter such as bushes.)

  23. Hi love your blog…..ive got a fledgling in my Garden mum and dad come all the time to feed it but it cant fly yet i hope it survives x

  24. I’ve cared for animals since I was a child – I’m now 55. LOVE, love, love them!
    I’m presently caring for a baby mockingbird who, my cat brought me, at 3:30 in the morning completely unharmed. We were good buddy’s after 24 hours of being together. (I don’t really know the sex). It’s been a week now! It is SO cool watching a bird grow up! It was just yesterday when he started pecking at things. It’s like having a child and for the first time and see what he’s learned. He’s getting more balanced with his flying but still falling from time to time. Especially when he can’t figure out why he can’t stand on the window when it’s showing cross bars that are in between. LOL. It’s funny to watch.
    How soon do you think it would be before he can eat on his own? Presently I have a bowl of water with raisins smashed and torn apart, grapes in smaller pieces and blueberries. Yesterday was his first day of having crickets. It was interesting to watch his reaction. Earth worms was Ok in the beginning but he gets picky on me. In another bowl is cat food soften. I know this is a little advanced but I had brought this bell shaped bird food – for song birds. This way, maybe once he starts to really peck, he can learn where to get food in case all else fails. I’ll be hanging it up at the time I release him outside to really sore. Right now my whole glass room is devoted to him. I leave a window open so he can hear his own kind. As you read earlier, I have cats – 2. The bird may have been lucky the first time but may not be so lucky the second. So I have to be careful on how I do this.

    • Hi Diana,
      I’m glad your mockingbird is doing well so far. He’s going to peck at things *and* expect you to feed him for a while: he needs to learn how to eat, which takes time. Don’t stop feeding him if he’s gaping (opening his mouth) at you still, but if you see him eating on his own, you can start to gradually feed him less. Eventually he will stop gaping at you at all, and just eat on his own.
      The food you’ve been giving sounds generally good. Blueberries, any other berries, and grapes cut in berry-sized pieces are good. For your softened kibble (i.e. dry cat or dog food soaked in water), also chop up a hard-boiled egg and mix it in with the kibble for some extra protein. A little bit of chopped-up leafy veggies and chopped-up fruit would be a great addition too. Store this mix in the fridge so it doesn’t go bad, and don’t store for more than 2 days. The crickets are a good idea, but even better would be mealworms. You should be able to find live mealworms at a pet store or bait shop. (Don’t use earthworms – there are lots of different kinds, and some are toxic.) You can leave a bowl of mealworms for the bird to practice picking up and eating.
      You’ll want to have all of these food things available to the bird. I.e. a dish of berries/fruits, a dish of wet kibble mix, and a dish of mealworms. And a dish of water, of course.
      Mockingbirds aren’t big seed-eaters, especially the young ones, so he may not be able to do much with your birdseed bell.
      Don’t release him until he is eating *entirely* on his own – never gaping to you – and until he can fly very well. (Watch out, as he learns to fly he may try to fly out windows, and could hurt or even kill himself crashing into the glass. Cover windows if he is flying around a room.) This is especially important because of your cats: he needs to be able to escape them. Another problem with the cats is going to be that he may approach you after you release him, and if your cats are nearby… So consider taking him somewhere where you know there are fewer cats, or keeping your cats indoors for a few days after you release him. *Definitely* don’t let him get used to the cats in your house: if he thinks cats aren’t dangerous, he won’t live long outside.

  25. Tragic outcome here in Rockville, MD. Robins constructed a nest last month under our deck umbrella, which was an amazing feat, and two chicks were being raised in it. Yesterday we came back home and discovered their two butchered bodies on the deck, as well as same of a parent a few feet away. The predator left wings and legs strewn about, but nothing else. We know that there’s a stray cat roaming in the area. I collected and buried the body parts, and closed down the umbrella after removing the empty nest. We don’t wish to go through another horrible episode like this one.

    • Oh no! That’s a sad story. Unfortunately that’s part of being a small bird, especially a baby: it’s a very dangerous world. About half of all baby birds don’t survive. Of course, it doesn’t help when humans introduce extra predators (cats) either. I hope you have more positive bird experiences in the future!

  26. What do you do if you find baby orphan birds, they are now fledglings, they were hopping around but I think one hurt it’s leg and since it won’t hop around the other won’t either. They are still eating and alert but just won’t get up…what should I do?

  27. Pingback: What Are The Little Yellow Birds Called | ziitika1

  28. Hi. I’m afraid before I read up on baby birds I found 2 fledglings on the ground and thought I was saving them and put them back in the nest. One of the fledglings immediately got back out of the nest the other one has remained in the nest for what’s going on three days now. Both parents are around and it looks like the mom is feeding the fledgling in the nest. My concern is by putting it back in the nest I’ve somehow stunted its progression and now it will not leave. Should I put the fledgling back on the ground where I found it? Or put the nest on the ground with fledgling in it? Or do I just leave it alone and let the mother care for it?

    • Don’t worry, it doesn’t sound like you had any negative effects. The fledgling who stayed in the nest maybe decided he didn’t want to leave home yet after all :-) I’m confident he’ll leave within the next few days; fledglings get restless. As long as the parents are feeding him there, he’ll be fine. Don’t handle him again: he can figure out where he wants to be.

  29. I’ve heard a bird chirping frantically for the last two hours. Went outside and found it on a small tree twig. It did not fly away when I came close. Listened to it for a while longer and heard it go to the front of the deck. Peaked through the door and saw it’s mom, a Cardinal, come and feed it. I realized then that it was a baby bird or fledgling. It must be capable of flight since it could not have hoped onto the front deck. So enjoyed your article and never knew that fledglings looked so strangely cute. It was so special to me to be an eyewitness to the baby feeding!

  30. I am devastated right now. For the past several days we have had a fledgling (finch?) in our yard and have watched the mom feeding it. A couple of hours ago I watered the yard and must have scared the baby. My husband found it drowned in the pool. The mother has been flying around looking for her baby. I feel so guilty and sad. Just sharing.

  31. Concerned about a pair of baby robins that have returned to a nest on the garage door opener .. The babies look almost full grown and they have returned to the nest two days ago … There is a drought here in Ontario and am worried they can’t find food or water .. There are no worms coming up with the ground this dry .. Help !!

    • Hi Dylan,
      You could try putting out a robin bird feeder. If you set out a shallow dish full of mealworms (can buy these at pet stores or bait shops) somewhere obvious, there’s a chance the parents will see it and feed there. (Or at the least, you’ll make whatever birds do find it very happy.) If you can put it near where the babies are, they might even feed themselves from it.

      I recommend mealworms over worms because some kinds of commonly-sold worms are weirdly toxic to certain species. Also, the mealworms will crawl around in the dish a lot, and the motion should be better able to attract the attention of the robins.

      This is a bit of a long shot I’m afraid, but it’s all I can think of. Let me know what happens!

      • Thanks for the quick reply !! The issue is the birds are in an indoor structure, about 20 feet inside the shop. So I am concerned he won’t land on the floor when I put the meal worms down. Also a few chipmunks in there that may quickly devour those .. But it is an idea .. Any way to take that a step forward in the location this nest is in? Once again it is I too of the garage door opener far inside the shop ..

        Also one of the babies is gone again. It’s funny me calling them babies because the my appear to be full grown and no baby feathers left .. They are fully capable of flying around and everything .. It’s just with this drough, I feel the parents abandoned them to early, based on the assumption they couldn’t be thought to find worms because the ground is so hard .. Maybe they don’t know how to find food?

        Thoughts?? I will also try the meal worms tomorrow anyways , worth a try .

  32. Hi there.. This is a shot in the dark looking for answers before morning but here it goes! I found what appears to be a yellow bellied woodpecker fledgling, I thought he was injured in some way because my dog ( such a sweet girl) found it on my lane way. The bird didn’t appear to be scared and didn’t try to get away.. Over several hours there was no sign of a parent coming by to check the baby although I did move it as it was unsafe where it was and Being too late in the evening I wasn’t able to take it to a wildlife rehabilitation centre I decided to bring him in for the night. He he is happily and safety sleeping now. My question is can I put him back out in the morning in hopes that a parent will come to find him or has it been too long over night and the parents will have given up hope? Or should I go ahead and send him to rehab? He doesn’t seem obviously hurt or sick… Any advice is greatly appreciated!

    • Hi Andrea,
      Definitely put him back out in the morning; the parents will sleep over night, then look for him in the morning. If they don’t come for him all day, then it’s time to think about a wildlife rehab center.
      Hope it works out for your little woodpecker!

  33. Hi! I have a nest with three baby robins just outside my house. Today I witnessed one of them come out of the nest! After a while I hanging in the nest’s tree, it took off in flight and appeared to fall in some bushes pretty far away from the tree! I could not find it in the dense brush. Do you think there’s any chance this little fledgling will survive? Is it a good thing it flew off to different cover? Seems too early and too far for its first day out of the nest. Any expertise is much appreciated, thank you!

    • Absolutely – I think your little robin has good chances. Fledglings generally stay relatively close to the best at first, but that’s on the scale of the parents, who can easily fly a long distance quickly: their idea of “close” may not match yours. It’s a good sign that the fledgling went away from the nest: the nest is dangerous, because it’s full of other noisy birds who could attract predators. The fledgling is more likely to go undetected in his new hiding place (which is why the chicks fledge).
      You’ll have trouble seeing the fledgling – he’ll be hiding – but you can look out for the parents hopping around holding bugs and not eating them: if the parents are doing that, they’re collecting food for the babies, meaning at least one is still alive.

  34. Hi. I’m from South Africa. We found a baby swallow on the ground in our garden. It doesn’t look like the little thing’s legs is working properly. Is a fledgeling’s legs supposed to be developed probably or do they still struggle to stand or walk or jump?

    • Hi Michelle,
      A fledgling swallow should be able to perch, but might not be good at walking/jumping (swallows don’t really do those activities). He probably overestimated his flight abilities, poor guy. If you can put him somewhere high up, he may be able to get food from his parents, or follow them to a safe place they choose.

  35. How long does it take for a fledging to learn how to fly? I have dogs and they sadly killed one baby bird. I don’t want to let them out into the yard until the birds have the capability to fly off.
    Thanks!
    Jessica

    • The longer you can keep the dogs away, the better; but the crucial time is the first week out of the nest. After a week, most fledglings should be at least somewhat flighted. (How flighted they need to be depends on how skilled your dogs are at hunting, too.)

  36. What can I do if my cat has caught a fledging? It is not hurt and I have left it in the garden but my worry is that the cat may have brought it in to the garden from somewhere else and it’s mum won’t know where it is.

    • The best you can do is to put it somewhere safe (in a bush or dense vegetation is generally good) in your garden. It will call for the parents, and it’s likely the parents will find it – fledglings often wander off, so the parents should be looking over a broad area. (I also doubt the cat could have carried it very far without harming it, so it probably came from nearby.)

      Also, keep your cat indoors for a while if you can! Otherwise the cat may just finish the job.

      • Thanks. I have done my best to hide it in the garden. It has been calling out for about an hour now and no sign of parents 😢 I’m worried it will die

        • Give it a few hours. Contrary to what you might hear, baby birds – especially fledglings – can survive a few hours without food no problem, and the parents may be busy feeding their other kids.

          As a backup plan, it wouldn’t hurt to search online to see if there is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator near you. If you find one, and if the fledgling hasn’t been found by the parents after 3-4 hours, consider calling them to see what their advice is. (They may tell you to wait longer.)

          If you have a photo of the fledgling and send it to me at klabarbera[at]berkeley.edu, I can try to figure out how old it is, which may affect what you do here. A young fledgling needs its parents much more than an older one.

  37. We’ve had a nest of fledglings on our porch & they just left their nest tonight. Is it dangerous for fledglings to be active at night?

    • It’s more usual for chicks to leave the nest in the morning, but it’s fine if they leave in the evening. They’ll probably scatter to some safe hiding places in dense brush, go to sleep, and be awake and begging for food from their parents bright and early the next morning.

  38. We left for vacation and came back to a nest in the lid of our propane tank. In a high traffic area for us and our dogs. It’s right next to the house and deck. Mowing and gardening happen in that area a lot. As well as when the propane gets filled. I peaked in and they aren’t old enough to leave th nest, but aren’t pink. How long do they fledge? It’s unrealistic to keep the one dog out of the yard since they need to be outside some as well. If our presence gradually increases will the mother tolerate it?

    • It’s hard to be exact without photos or knowing the exact species. Given that they have feathers, it could be up to 14 days until they’re ready to leave (but probably less). The adult birds probably won’t feed the chicks while you (or the dog) are close, but if you can stay away for scattered periods of time (e.g. mow for one hour, then stay away for one hour), they can feed them in your absence.

      The most dangerous time, with respect to the dog and the mowing, will actually be right after they leave the nest. The fledglings will be clumsy and slow, not yet able to fly, and will rely on hiding; they’ll be vulnerable to being mowed over or being sniffed out by the dog. If you can keep an eye on the nest and try to give the area a wide berth the first few days after the chicks disappear, that will make a big difference. (Even if the dog can’t be kept away all the time, everything helps – keeping an eye on him to see that he isn’t eating a baby bird, reducing his time out in that area, etc.)

      Good luck!

  39. Why would 2 out of 4 robin fledglings leave the others behind? I’ve been watching a robins nest for about 10 days now and there are 2 missing, but the parents are still feeding the remaining babies. Thanks!!

    • Baby birds generally all leave the nest at the same time, but sometimes they leave over the course of 24-48 hours, so you can have a time period where some are fledged and some aren’t. Probably the ones who left were the biggest/most developed, while their siblings are still growing a bit (or just feeling lazy). Fun fact: in robins, when some chicks are fledged and some aren’t, it’s usually the female who feeds the chicks that are still in the nest while the male attends the fledglings.

  40. This year we have a nest on the guttering by our front door. Though it is cool to see the progress of the chicks, I worry for them as if I am their parent. I no longer let my dog out front, and keep the bird feeder full so the “real” parents don’t have far to go to feed, however, I worry that THAT will make for fledglings who are going to be eternally dependent on the feeder. While I intend to keep it full, things happen, and that makes me worry what will happen if something happens to me. I may not always be able to afford to feed them. I guess I just want you to tell me they’ll be fine, so tell me that, please. :-)

    • It’s actually a great idea to keep the dog away for a few weeks. When the chicks first fledge, they’ll be very vulnerable, and dogs have a talent for finding them at that stage.

      The feeder is probably having less effect than you think. Almost no birds can eat seeds as babies (certain finches, like Zebra Finches, are the exception, but I don’t think any of our native North American finches are included); they need soft, protein-rich food that is easily digestible: bugs! So there is no way that the chicks will grow up dependent on the feeder. The parents may be eating for their own nutrition from the feeder, or they may not; this time of year, there are so many bugs around that birds don’t really need feeders.

      Which is all to say: if something happens to you, they will be okay! And if you want to make your birdseed budget stretch as far as possible, consider prioritizing the feeder in the winter, rather than right now. You’ll make more of a difference by supplementing birds in the lean months.

  41. Hi, so nice to read your article…soo beautiful that u know so much about their world! I hav a bird nest just outside my window, the baby will soon get into fledgling stage. Do all fledglings fall from nest (no matter how high their nest is) to come on ground for few days untill they fly? Dont they get hurt? Mother dove has also reduced its visits a lot to the nest. Can u explain please. Many thanks.

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