"I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven."
Emily Dickinson

Monday, May 18, 2020

How to recognize a baby bird

A juvenile black phoebe.  Photo by J.J. Meyer
Juvenile Bewick's wrens wait for the next feeding. Photo by J.J. Meyer

The physical characteristics of a baby bird are determined by many factors, including its age and type of species. However, there a few distinguishing features of young birds. 

First, observe the color and quality of the feathers. Baby birds tend to look more round and fluffy than the adults because of their downy feathers. In some cases, the babies may even appear larger than their parents.  In most species, if a bird is fully feathered, it is the size it will be as an adult. It's common for people to see a small bird and immediately think it's a baby, when it in fact, it just might be a small species. 

Juveniles also tend to have dull plumage to camouflage them from predators. Many will not develop their colorful adult feathers until after their first molt. For others, it may require years, as is the case with the bald eagle. Eagles take up to five years to transition to their distinctive white head and tail.

Juvenile birds tend to have bills that appear disproportionately large for their heads. Take a look at the top photo of the juvenile black phoebe. The yellowish, fleshy region at the base of the beak is called the gape flange. It's slightly swollen in young birds and can give them the appearance of frowning. As the bird matures, this will become less pronounced. 

Another way to distinguish if a bird is a youngster, is to watch its behavior. Begging sounds and wing fluttering is a dead giveaway. Uncoordinated flight and an uncertainty at how to eat at a feeder, are also signs the bird may be a juvenile. 

Happy birding!

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