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By Paul Konrad
This is an exciting time of spring with the nesting period in full swing. Already, some young birds have fledged, while others are ready to leave their nests.
As new fledglings such as robins, cardinals, wrens, and other songbirds leave the nest, along with precocial hatchlings like Killdeer, ducklings, quail, and others that leave the nest within a few hours of hatching, it’s important to recognize that these birds need no human “help.”
Please encourage everyone not to disturb young birds that are appearing in our yards, neighborhoods, local parks, and rural areas.
This is an especially hazardous time for young birds: Known as the “post-fledging period,” new fledglings and hatchlings continue to be cared for and fed by the adults.
They are just learning what to eat, where to find food, and what constitutes danger – not to mention they are learning to fly!
Young birds are actually the most vulnerable after leaving the nest than any other time in their life.
When you find a young bird, please don’t disturb it and don’t touch it. Leave it where it is; one or both of its parents are nearby and will soon be bringing food to the fledgling.
This “fledgling–adult learning period” is paramount to the survival of young birds. So have faith, the little bird does not need your assistance or rescue. If it can’t fly yet, never fear; it will be flying quite well in a day or two. In the meantime, it will follow a parent to beg for food and learn how and where to find food in the process.
In fact, some young birds leave the nest a few weeks before they can fly – owls for instance. Young owls usually leave the nest days or weeks before they can fly, perching near the nest and walking on adjacent branches.
This behavior may continue for weeks before they make their first simple attempts at flying. Even if young birds get blown out of their nest, the adults continue to protect and feed them through the pre-fledging period.
Actually, a nest is not a safety net – it’s easy for predators to wreck a nest and nesting attempt at the egg or nestling stage. That happens, that’s the way nature works, and that’s how population dynamics works.
Not every nesting attempt is successful, and not every nestling or hatchling survives. In fact, if all nesting attempts were successful and all nestlings survived, we’d be overrun by birds each summer.
The post-fledging period is a critical time during the nesting period, as young birds leave the nest, learn about finding food on their own, and learn to fly – all while one or both adults protect them and provide supplemental feeding.
There may be some learning involved in the process too, although many birds possess an innate – inborn – behaviors that allow them to progress through this period with a minimum of oversight from an adult or pair.
The post-fledging period may last a few days in smaller birds including most songbirds; but it may last for months in some larger birds such as hawks, eagles, owls, geese, ducks, cranes, and others.
Have faith and let nature take its course. Please do not to disturb young birds. But enjoy observing the post-fledging period, which is an especially interesting time in our birding year, as a variety of nesting birds continue to protect, feed, and teach their fledglings all around you.