How to Identify a Baby Bird

Thursday, June 18, 2015
I’ve been asked a few times recently, how to recognize what a baby bird looks like?  It’s not as easy as you may think, but there are some simple tricks. Keep in mind that when a young bird leaves the nest it is the same size as the parent, so size isn’t helpful.  The two best things too look for is the plumage and begging behaviours. 

Plummage: Sometimes baby birds have different plumage from their parents.  They may have inconsistent colouring (like young Rose-breasted Grosbeaks), strange feathers that poke out (like young House Finches), colouring in different places than adults (like young male Hairy Woodpeckers) or are different in colour (like young Baltimore Orioles). 

Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)
A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak has inconsistent colouring from an adult male
© Leanne LeBlanc
A young House Finch, notice the two feathers sticking up, visible on most young House Finches
Hairy Woodpecker (Picoides villosus)
A young male Hairy Woodpecker has red on the front of his head instead of the back like adult males

Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula)
Young Baltimore Oriole lacks the colour of it's parent

Begging Behaviours: Rather than feeding themselves young birds rely on parents to feed them.  They will sit at feeders not eating and follow their parent around flapping their wings and opening their mouths begging for food. They may also sit in nearby trees or shrubs waiting for their parents to feed them. Young chickadees, cardinal and nuthatches have similar plumage to their parents; but follow their parents (usually their dad) around and beg for food.
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis)
A young Northern Cardinal follows it's dad and begs for food until fed

So if you notice birds with strange plumage patterns or behaviours at this time of the year it very well may be a young bird. I hope this helps to identify young birds in your yard.  Keep your eyes peeled there are lots of young birds at this time of the year.


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