Types of Baby Birds & How to Identify Them

Updated March 23, 2017

Baby birds are found on the ground, out of the nest and in need of care or they are found in a nest when looking for specific birds or looking up into a tree. Identifying baby birds can help determine appropriate care, how to return a bird to the nest if it has fallen, or which birds might return to the area. There are only two types of baby birds and identifying a bird starts with determining which type it is.

Altricial Bird Characteristics

An altricial baby bird is noticeable because it does not yet have feathers, has eyes closed and is dependent upon parents for food, warmth and survival. Altricial babies require parents to bring food as they are unable to walk, fly or see until they reach an older age. When the babies start to get older the eyes open and they grow fuzz, which later develops into feathers.

Precocial Baby Birds

A precocial baby bird is born with fuzz and able to walk. They are covered in a soft, downy fuzz from the time of birth and are not reliant on their parents for food. Instead, the babies graze on seeds and grasses as they walk around and explore. They do however require warmth and protection, making them dependent on parents and as babies precocial birds often follow their mothers. These birds are often born in a nest on the ground rather than in a tree.

Looking for Features

The features of a baby bird are less pronounced than the features of adults, making identification challenging, but it is still possible. To identify a baby bird it is important to look for features that stand out. For example look for webbed feet, a duck-like bill, or pronounced colouring. Also note the bird's size, location, and behaviours such as walking or eating. Features become more pronounced as the baby bird grows older.

Identify the Baby Birds

Some baby birds, especially very young ones, have little or no identifying features and may look too similar to other types of birds accurately distinguish and identify them. In these cases watchers need to wait until feathers start to grow in and physical characteristics become more apparent. If the bird is not identifiable based on personal knowledge of birds or bird features pictures can be helpful -- especially when differentiating birds that look similar.

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