Be on the lookout! It is that time of year baby birds begin showing up in our yards, neighborhoods, and favorite birding areas. Many nesting birds are raising or already succeeded in raising their nestlings to fledgling. Many people think that when nestlings leave the nest they are on their own; but realistically, when young birds leave the nest, they are the most vulnerable of all. New fledglings are still under the care and protection of at least one adult during a post-fledging period that may last a couple days, a couple weeks, or several months.
Watch as this pair of bluebird parents enthusiastically take advantage of food (wax worms) served up while they are feeding youngsters that have fledged.
You may see newly fledged robins, bluebirds, grackles, swallows, or others soon after leaving the nest. Watch them for a while. You will see that even when seemingly left to themselves, an adult periodically brings food to each fledgling; and when necessary, an adult will dive-bomb and chase potential dangerous animals – maybe even you – to protect a fledgling and give it an added moment to elevate to a safer location, or fly away to another area.
Occasionally, a nestling will jump from a nest before it can fly, but that’s normal too. After leaving the nest, they need to practice and learn to fly. Don’t be too concerned if you encounter such a fledgling; try not to disturb it, an attentive adult knows where it is and will return soon, if not immediately. Permit nature to take its course, allow the fledglings to fulfill their post-fledgling education as they learn to fly and find food for themselves, with a little help from an adult or two.
Eventually, you may be lucky enough to have well-flying fledglings visit your feeding station, including your water feature. It’s great fun to see the young birds in your yard and to see interactions between them and adults. Some species, robins and wrens and bluebirds for instance, may re-nest and the process is repeated with another brood fledging about a month later.
In the field, you may find fledglings, or even hatchlings that can run but can’t fly. These are altricial hatchlings that skip the nestling phase and go directly from the egg to following the adult, or pair, such as sandpipers and plovers (Killdeer, etc.), quail and pheasants, ducks, and others. These birds follow an adult and learn to feed on their own, or do so instinctively. They may not fledge for a couple weeks to several weeks, but they are fine on their own – and they are under the care of the adult or adults.
Newly fledged raptors and owls can be encountered in the field after leaving the nest, but be sure to leave them on their own too. Overall, young birds and adults are protected by the Migratory Bird Act, so it’s not only a matter of leaving nature to itself, but our laws dictate that simple message as well.
Most important, enjoy the young birds you see this fledgling season; enjoy the behaviors you witness, appreciate the frailty of the process, and keep improving your yard for nesting, migrating, and wintering birds. Likewise, support conservation issues to protect and improve conditions for birds – locally, nationally, and internationally. It’s the very best way to help birds – in your yard and far beyond.