How Do Young Birds Identify Their Parents?

Most birds do not recognise their family members after their first year of life.

There are exceptions, especially among social birds such as cranes, crows and jays.

Canada geese also remember their parents and may even join their parents and siblings in winter and during migration.

On the other hand, chicks of black-footed teal disperse in autumn and each of them joins a different winter flock from their siblings and parents.

Mallards and grouse mate with their parents, but there is no evidence that they recognise their parents or family members after the first year of life.

Birds have different species as well as behaviours.

Take chickens, for example, they can grow up without parents or siblings. Their offspring can be raised by humans without much difficulty.

Most baby birds, which depend on their parents for food, are usually indifferent to feeders.

Some species feed baby birds that are not their chicks. This is how the cuckoo bird survives.

Their mother lays an egg in someone else’s nest. The other parental duties are taken over by the stranger.

In some bird species, fratricide is a family tradition.

The weakest sibling is next. Some cuckoos take it to the next level by destroying all the eggs and baby birds in their nest.

As for the children, some parents don’t care. That’s why you can see chickens raising ducklings. Wrens are more paranoid.

They teach their chicks a song while they are still in the egg. When the chick hatches, it will have to sing the same song to get food.

Stages of development in young 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.

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.


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