Identifying baby birds can be a challenge as they grow, change their feather length, color and mark in just a few days. It can be confusing to figure out how to identify baby birds if you are not familiar with the species. Just remember, in most cases, you can identify baby birds by learning their parents' distinctive traits. If you love gardening, you might have come across many bird species in your garden and you know quite a number.
In this article, we give you a detailed guide and tips on how to identify baby birds. Let’s get started!
Types of Baby Birds
A hatchling is a baby bird that is new to the world. Hatchlings cannot leave their nest without assistance and will rely on their parents for food and warmth through the next few weeks. Most hatchlings don't have feathers and will remain in the nest while their parents care for them. They’re completely dependent on their parents.
They're generally naked with a few wispy or downy feathers on their bare skin. Their eyes are closed, and their beaks may seem large to their head. Finding them out of their nest should be a concern because they can barely do anything like human infants.
The best thing to do if you see them around is to spot a nearby nest and return them. Gently pick the baby bird and put it back into the nest with other siblings, and then walk away. If you can't find the nest or it has been destroyed, put some dry grass and leaves in a loosely woven wicker basket and lay your hatchling there.
The basket should have a few holes over the top so they can breathe. Hang the basket in a nearby tree and quiet place away from where it got out of its nest and walk away. This will give the mother bird time to return from her hunt and recognize her baby when she returns.
A nestling is a baby bird that has feathers but cannot fly. It's the stage of a baby bird a few days after hatching. They’re not new to the world like hatchlings. They may have down feathers and eyes open but still cannot live without their parents, but they can take care of themselves better than hatchlings.
If you find healthy nestlings on the ground, the best thing to do is to put them back in the nest with their siblings. If that option isn't there, create a make-shift nest with nearby leaves and grass.
At this stage, baby birds are ready to leave their nest and strike on their own. They don’t need much parental care like hatchlings. A fledgling bird has adult feathers, although they might not be fully developed. They might not be able to fly yet, but they can hop, walk, and run.
They'll leave their nest to search for food and practice flying. Since they're good hunters, it's best to just let them be and not bother them. Unless it is in immediate danger from humans or predators, don't interfere.
It might take a few days before they get used to finding food, but the parents will always be there watching over them from afar, ready to help if needed. But there's nothing wrong with helping a lost or stuck baby songbird. However, it's important to help the chicks in safe ways, not endangering yourself or them.
This is the final stage before baby birds become adults. Some are ready to leave their parents, while some choose to stay with them for pre-mating rituals. They may fly well, but they cannot live on their own without parental guidance. They have features similar to adult birds, like wing feathers, which enable them to fly independently.
The first step of identifying the species of your baby bird is to be sure if it's a juvenile bird. Some juvenile birds have the same features as fledglings, but characteristics such as bill size, feather length, color, eye size and behavior will help you differentiate them.
Tips on Baby Bird Identification
Observe the Types of Baby Birds
To understand whether the young birds are hatchlings, nestlings or fledglings, you first need to observe their feathers. Young birds don't have full-grown feathers, and their tails are stubbier than that of adults. Some feathers may be underdeveloped, exposing their bare skin.
When it comes to color, many bird species have different colors at a young age. Juvenile birds have drab and dull plumage similar to an adult female. As these young birds grow, their color becomes shinier to keep them out of danger. They camouflage, so if you want to identify them easily, look for their color.
The behavior of the young bird should also help you identify the type. Young birds tend to draw the attention of their parents by adorable behavior. They beg for food or flutter their wings whenever they're around adult birds.
Eye Size and Bill Size
If you want to identify the type of baby bird, pay attention to its eye and beak size. If it has a smaller eye in proportion to the beak, it's more likely a hummingbird. But if you have an example with larger eyes than its bill, then probably they are about five days old when they leave their nest.
Juvenile birds have beaks that seem too large for their head. On the other hand, fledglings and nestlings have bulging eyes that look too big for their heads. This isn't noticeable with birds that are about to leave the nest.
Observe the Nest
Finding out the types of young birds can be a daunting task as chicks have distinctive characters than their parents. If you find the litter near the nest, then you can recognize the nest type. Several bird species make nests differently.
For example, owls make their nest in wood cavities, while sparrows make nests on the ground under bushes or small trees. You can also see what kind of material is being used to build the nest
Observe their Physical Appearance
Physical appearance shows the difference between an adult bird and a young bird. Identifying the type of baby bird at this stage is very critical. But you can look for some markings, plumage features and other bird characteristics to help you out. For example, the under-developed flight feathers are visible at this stage in young pigeons.
Consider the Geography
You can determine the baby bird species by learning their geographical location. If the bird is found in small numbers or one, chances are it might be a young bird of that species. Another easy way to identify a baby bird is to see what adult birds it stays near. Most young birds follow their parents to beg for food and even imitate their behavior. So if you see one species stay near another, you can safely assume that they are the young ones of the latter.
What to do if You Find a Juvenile Bird
Determine If the Baby Bird Needs Your Help
Young birds try to leave their nest a few days before they can fully fly. But that doesn't mean they need your help. Their parents are always within and watchful of their every move.
If you come across a motionless bird with its eyes wide open, leave it alone even if its parents aren't around. It might be feeling threatened by your presence. But if you see evidence of physical injury, making them unable to move, then transport the bird to a wildlife rehabilitation center or veterinary clinic. The injured bird cannot move, so help it. You can always care for baby birds by leaving them alone when they don't need your help.
Return it to the nest
If the bird is too young to have left the nest and cannot move, carefully return it to the nest. Adult birds cannot abandon a baby that humans have handled, so returning it to the nest is the best way to reunite the baby with its parents. Place it gently back into the nest, and watch from afar for about an hour. If no parent bird comes to retrieve the chick within an hour, try to contact a wildlife rehabilitator or animal clinic.
Keep Children and Pets Away
Keep children and pets from disturbing the baby bird. If cats or dogs are harassing the bird, pick it up carefully with a towel and place it in a nearby shrub. Too many observers may also scare away birds, so only allow adults to handle the bird.
Do not Hand Raise a Baby Bird
Unless you're a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, it's illegal to hand raise wild birds in captivity. In addition, hand-raising wild baby birds can be time-consuming as nestlings need to be fed after every 15 to 20 minutes. The birds require around-the-clock care because of their high nutritional demands, which is nearly impossible to provide by untrained people.
Call for Help
If none of these methods works, you may need to contact wildlife rehabilitators or animal clinics to ask for guidance on what to do. Wildlife rehabilitators are licensed individuals trained in the proper handling and care of sick, injured, or orphaned wild animals. These people can make sure that the bird is fed properly and be able to release it back into the wild once it's ready.
Final Thought on How to Identify Baby Birds
Baby birds are so delicate; therefore, you need to attend to them with utmost care. Identifying these young birds through their types is more comfortable considering the above observations. However, interfering with their natural habitat is not advisable. Instead, provide them with a proper nest then inform the Wildlife Commission Authority for their relocation.