Why Baby Birds Leave the Nest So Young

Posted by Nancy on 8/21/2013 to Learn More About Birds

Question:  Why do birds leave the nest before the can fly and take care of themselves?

Answer:  We all think of nests as a safe haven for nestlings.  The fact is that predators can find and raid a nest of calling baby birds quite easily.   Also, housekeeping becomes an issue as the humidity and warmth in the nest can make nests breeding grounds for dangerous parasites.

Please remember that some baby birds don’t stay in the nest more than a few hours.  These birds are called precocial.  They follow their parents around to learn how to survive.  They learn how to identify danger, what to eat and how to find food.  They also learn how to pick a good spot to rest and sleep.  These chicks are very susceptible to predation.  These species tend to have large clutches.  Examples of precocial birds are quail, grouse, ducks and most shorebirds.

The last group you should know about is species that nest in cavities.  Woodpeckers, for example, locate their nests higher in the trees than most other birds.  Most of these nests do not have branches below them to help the young birds when they fledge. Swallows would be another example of this group.  Cliff Swallows often nest under bridges.  Tree and Violet-green Swallow use cavities in trees.  This group of birds tends to stay in the nest cavity until they can fly. After all, that first step is a doosie!Baby birds that stay in the nest for a longer period of time (nestlings) are helpless when they hatch.  They are completely dependent on the parents.  The parents work from sunrise and sunset every day to feed their young.  The parents want to get their young out of the nest as quickly as possible.  After fledging the young birds can spread out.  This enhances the fledglings’ chance of survival as the parents can lead each nestling to a different spot each night. If a predator finds one chick the rest may still survive.

I hope this explains why baby birds leave the nest at such an early age.  It is a matter of survival and Mother Nature has given them the instincts to survive.

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