Identifying the Fledgling Stage of a Baby Bird

1:37 AM

If  you see a bird on the ground, in a bush/tree, or near a feeder that has some fluffy, downy feathers, wrinkly appearance around the edges of it's mouth, continually fluttering wings, or constant chirping (or perhaps all of the above), you most likely have found yourself a "Fledgling."

Fledgling American Robin with short tail feathers, muted speckled plumage, and wrinkly gape.
A "fledgling" generally refers to the stage a baby bird is at when it has left the nest, but is not yet ready to go solo.  These little ones are still not quite ready to feed on their own and will rely on mom and dad to keep them safe and bring them food until they can figure it out themselves.
Baby Robin eating mealworms
Fledgling American Robin being feed by Daddy Robin.


Many fledglings have plumage that is muted, similar to the parent (usually the female), or a speckled look that helps to provide the necessary camouflage to keep young ones safe while they learn to forage for food, and practice the art of flying.

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Adult Female Northern Cardinal.
Young Female Northern Cardinal looks very similar to mom (pictured above).  Notice the beak is dark on the young bird, and bright red on the adult.  On the other hand, feet are bright on the baby bird, and darker on the adult.
At this stage flight feathers may not have developed enough to allow young birds to fly farther than from one branch to another.  However, this will change rapidly.  Now out of the nest, the baby birds have more room to stretch, strengthen muscles, and feathers to grow to their full size.  After all, it does get a little cramped in a nest with siblings.

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Fledgling Common Grackle

Tail feathers are one of the last feathers to grow to their full length, so use the tail length as one of the gauges in determining how old a bird may be.

You may notice behaviours rather than physical differences that will help you to identify a bird as a fledgling or adult.  Fluttering of the wings, hopping around, constant calling, are all signs that could indicate that you have found a baby bird.  Not to worry.  Mom and Dad will not be far away.  They are watching from a distance.  Young birds need the opportunity to practice life skills before they leave the family unit.  Adults will bring the fledgling food as it is needed, and offer distractions if predators are close by, all the while giving the young bird the chance to forage for food and practice flying.



Hope this helps you identify what's what, and who's who in your backyard.

If you have any questions or comments about these young birds, please feel free to comment below and I will get back to you.

Enjoy the birds.  ~ Leanne




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