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The place for wild birds.

The Story of Baby Birds

Baby birds.

text and illustrations

Kathleen Frisbie

The Nest
The Hatchlings and Nestlings
The Fledglings
The Juveniles
If You Find a Baby Bird
How to Make a Substitute Nest
What to Do if the Babies Are Injured or the Parents Are Gone
How You Can Help Prevent Problems for Birds



Eggs in a nest.The story of baby birds begins with the nest. Each spring our wild birds build nests in order to have cozy places to lay eggs and raise their families.

Some birds make their nests on tree branches or in bushes. Others nest on buildings or in chimneys. A few will even nest in unused boats or cars! Certain birds such as woodpeckers raise their babies inside hollow trees.

Wild birds use many different building materials to make their nests strong and comfortable. Some birds use twigs, while others use grass, mud, feathers, and even human hair.

It takes 1-2 weeks to build the nest. After the nest is done, the mother bird lays one egg each day for 4-5 days. The parents take turns sitting on the eggs to keep them warm. The eggs hatch in 10-14 days.

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Hatchling and nestling.Nearly all baby birds are naked and blind when they come out of the egg. They are called "hatchlings." Their parents must keep them warm and feed them every 15 minutes during the day!

Most young birds ask for food by opening their beaks and peeping. This is called "gaping" or "food begging." The parents put food into the babies' mouths. Each type of bird eats a different food. Some eat bugs, some eat berries, and some will eat seed when they are older. The adults know just what to feed the babies.

Soon their eyes open and feathers start to grow, and then the babies are called "nestlings." The new feathers are called "blood quills" or "pin feathers." These new feathers look like shiny blue tubes. The nestlings' tails are just starting to grow and are less than 1/2 inch long.

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Fledgling.Birds that are two weeks old are called "fledglings." They have grown so fast that now they have feathers, and a tail that's about 1/2 inch long. The fledglings are curious and want to explore the world. They leave the nest even though they cannot fly yet or eat on their own.

The fledglings hop on the ground and call to their parents to be fed. It will take the fledglings a few days to be able to fly up to low branches. It will take two weeks for them to learn to feed themselves.

The parents show the young how to find food and what to eat. The adult birds make loud noises to warn the fledglings when danger is nearby.

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Juvenile.After two more weeks, the babies are as big as adults and can fly well. They have long tails and are now called "juveniles." Some will still beg to their parents for food even though they can eat on their own!

Soon the parent birds prepare for their next group of babies. Most birds can only have families in the spring and summer, and will have 2-3 nests of young during this time of year.

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Baby bird.If you find a baby bird, it is always best to return it to the parents. The adults will not hurt the young bird if you have touched it. They have no sense of smell and will not detect your sent. The parents have worked very hard to raise their family. They know each baby and each baby's voice.

When a baby bird falls from a nest and you can reach the nest, you should put it back. Be certain that it is the right nest. Make sure that the baby is healthy and not hurt.

Watch from a distance to see that the parents feed the nestling after you put it back into the nest.

A healthy nestling should feel warm. It should be active and alert, and have bright eyes. The tail will be less than 1/2 inch long. Baby birds are always ready to eat and may even beg to you for food!

If you find a healthy fledgling on the ground, you should keep people and pets away from it. A fledgling has more feathers and a longer tail than a nestling. It should be able to hop well. Hide and watch to be sure that the fledgling is being fed by its parents about every 30 minutes.

Please note: children should not handle wildlife. If you are a child who has found a baby bird outside of its nest, please get a grown-up to help you.1

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Bird in a substitute nest.If a hatchling or nestling has fallen and you can't reach the nest or the whole nest has come down, you can make a substitute nest.

Punch drainage holes in the bottom of a large plastic bucket. Place the nest and the babies in the bottom of the bucket. If you don't have the old nest, or if the old nest is wet, put twigs and dry leaves under the babies. Secure the bucket close to where the original nest was by nailing or wiring it in place.

The bucket should be at least 5-6 feet from the ground, and not in direct sun.

Then hide and watch to make sure that the parents feed the young birds. If the adults don't come for 3-4 hours, or if the babies are hurt, they will have to be raised by a Wildlife Specialist.

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Hurt baby bird.If a young bird is cold, weak, or bloody, it is hurt and needs help. A bird that limps, falls over, or has one wing that droops also needs help.

When you find a baby bird that is hurt or has not been fed by its parents for 3-4 hours, you should call a Wildlife Specialist.

Licensed Wildlife Specialists or Wildlife Rehabilitators know how to help wild baby birds that are hurt or sick. Rehabilitators also know how to raise baby birds if the parents are gone.

You can find the names of rehabilitators or wildlife clinics by calling the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, the Audubon Society, and most veterinarians.

Until you can get the bird to help, keep it quiet and warm on a towel in a box. Never give water or milk to a baby bird.

You should not try to raise the baby wild bird yourself. It is against the law to keep wild birds. They can die or be harmed by the wrong food or incorrect handling. Some may need medicine, or to be in an incubator. Most wild baby birds must be fed every 15 minutes for 12-16 hours a day!

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Cat in a window.We can help our wild birds in many ways. It is important to leave nests alone, and keep pets away from the babies. Baby birds will jump out of the nest too early if disturbed.

Keeping cats indoors, especially during the day in the spring and summer will save many birds.

By waiting until fall to remove bushes or dead trees, you can help a nest of baby birds to fledge.

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Now that you know the story of baby birds, this spring you can watch (but not too close) as the wild birds grow in your neighborhood!


1. This website is here because of a boy named Thomas, who lives in Bedford, MA. One day Thomas found a baby bird alone and shivering on the ground in his back yard. He didn't know what to do, so he did exactly the right thing. He took his dog, who was very interested in the bird, inside the house, and then he went to find a grown-up to help him.

The nearest available grown-up was our webmistress, Sara. She didn't know what to do, either, so she started making phone calls to see if she could find someone to tell her. Eventually her veterinarian gave her our phone number, and we were able to tell her over the phone how to keep the baby bird alive, safe and warm until she could bring it to us the next day.

The baby bird survived and grew up. He has now been released back to the wild where he belongs. Sara was so thrilled to be able to assist in the successful rescue and rehabilitation of a wild baby bird, something not too many people get to do, that she helped us build this website so that other birds might be helped, and so that other people such as yourself might have the same happy experience if they ever found themselves in a similar situation. (Sara knows, of course, that no Wildlife Specialist can save every bird which is found injured, sick or orphaned. However, she also knows that all birds in trouble have a lot better chance of surviving if they can get expert care.)

So if you are enjoying our website and finding it useful, please thank Thomas. He caused it to exist by doing just the right thing: asking for help.

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This website and all its contents belong to The Place for Wild Birds, Inc.
Copyright © 2002, all rights reserved. Reproduce only with permission.
All photographs by Walter S. Bezaniuk. Most illustrations by Kathleen Frisbie.
Site design and some illustrations by Sara.