How to Identify Baby Wild Birds

Written by laura hageman
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How to Identify Baby Wild Birds
A wild fledgling (baby bird in galapagos image by Diane Stamatelatos from

A bird's egg will hatch about 14 days after it is laid. Depending on the type of bird it is will determine when the baby bird goes through nestling and fledgling stages before becoming an adult. For example, a baby robin is a nestling up to 14 days after hatching and becomes a fledgling for another 16 days. Nestling birds are very small, rely on their parents to give them warmth and have little to no feathers. Fledgling birds still rely on their parents for food, but do not need them for warmth. They have most of their feathers and are learning to fly. Nestling and fledgling wild baby birds may be seen on the ground. Following the nestling and fledgling stages, a bird becomes an adult and is able to care for themselves. The robin, for example, becomes an adult at 30 days.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

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  1. 1

    Look for location of a nest. Wild baby birds live in nests. Depending on the kind of bird will determine where the nest is placed. Not all wild birds make their nests in trees or in openings to houses and buildings. For example, some birds are ground-nesters such as ducks and quail, making their nests on the ground. From the time the bird eggs hatch until they become fledglings, the bird will remain in the nest. Robins leave the nest at 14 days, while blue jays depart the nest by 21 days old.

  2. 2

    Analyse the appearance of the wild baby bird. The baby bird's bill is larger than its head since it is not fully developed. Nestlings lack feathers whereas fledglings have most of their feathers. The eyes are large and bulgy. Depending on the type of bird will determine the age at which the bird will mature. For example, by 30 days old, a pigeon will have most of its hair while it's still a fledgling, learning to forage and fly. It takes cardinals up to 12 days to mature, gain feathers, forage and learn to fly. Ground-nesters are born with most of their feathers and have a fully developed head.

  3. 3

    Listen for a squawking wild baby bird. You may hear an alarming short chirp (particularly heard in nestlings) or a loud sharp chirp as they call for their parents. Fledglings may be seen walking and hopping around the bottom of the tree where their nests are located. One of the parent birds will feed the baby bird even though it is not in the nest. The fledgling may be learning how to fly and is taking a rest. A nestling could be seen at the bottom of the tree as well if they were kicked out of their nest or blown out. The nestling will need to be placed back into its nest for it to survive. Ground-nesters could be seen walking near their nests which is usually placed near shrubbery and water.

Tips and warnings

  • Handling a nestling will not affect the baby bird's treatment from the parents. Contrary to popular belief, touching a baby bird will not make a parent bird reject it.

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