How Are Baby Birds Cared For
By Their Parents?
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What Ways do Parent Birds Look After Their Young?
There are many different ways that parent birds keep their baby birds safe and fed.
Some parents build elaborate homes while others are quite successful in raising their young with the least effort made towards home construction, as you can see here on Nesting Habits.
But all birds have very good reasons for how they conduct baby bird rearing and it has worked for many years.
How do Parents Share the Responsibility of Raising Baby Birds?
Not all species of birds share the responsibility of raising young between males and females. Certain species raise the young without help from the males, such as Hummingbird species.
Some Females of Certain Species Prefer to Go it Alone
There are birds who don’t share any of the responsibility of raising young with their mate.
The little Hummingbird is a good example of solo parenting. The male and female do not mate
The female prefers to go it alone.
She carries out the whole process by herself; building the birds nest, incubating the eggs, raising the baby birds, and defending her territory.
Even chasing the male away after mating is complete!
Sharing the Responsibilities of Raising Baby Birds
Many other birds share the tasks involved in raising the young.
How they share their time and duties varies a lot among species. Some parents trade out sitting on the eggs on an hourly basis.
Others split the duties up with the female sitting on the eggs and the male feeding her.
Still, others share incubation with the male sitting on the eggs during the daylight hours and the female taking the night shift.
Mourning Doves for example share the tasks of nest-building and raising baby birds.
Their nesting habits differ quite a bit from the Hummingbirds.
The female Mourning Dove builds her nest on a shelf like structure, with the material brought to her by her
Incubating is also evenly divided up.
The male usually sits during the day while the female relieves him as needed and does the night shift.
When the babies have hatched they both share in feeding.
Interestingly they both share in the feeding of crop milk to the young, which is a liquid secreted from inside the parent’s mouth.
As the nestlings grow the parents will bring them insects and seed.
Some Bird Species Practice “Cooperative Breeding”
These wild birds recruit other adult birds to help them or allow older offspring to remain in their territory to assist with the job of rearing baby birds.
The Tufted Titmouse and the Gray Jay will often feed their young with assistance from offspring from an earlier brood.
These young adult birds have often not been able to establish territories of their own.
They will also lend a hand in defending the established area of the parent birds against other birds of the same species wanting to nest too close or driving predators away.
What does Altricial & Precocial Baby Birds Mean?
- Altricial babies are born almost entirely without feathers or down of any kind. These babies are dependent on their parents to keep them warm until they grow their own plumage.
- Precocial bird babies are born with a complete covering of downy or more mature type feathers. Ducks and other aquatic birds usually are covered in down and can leave the nest immediately to forage for food. On the other hand, Killdeer are born completely feathered and after a few minutes are totally dry and can follow the mother where ever she leads them.
It is not always clearly defined between the two either. For example, baby Kestrels are semi-altricial, which means they are covered in downy feathers when they hatch but will remain in their nest for another 30 days.
Protection For Babies
What is Brood Parasitism?
Still, there are feathered friends who choose to pass their total parenting responsibility along to other unsuspecting parents.
Their nesting habits are practiced by laying their eggs in another nest belonging to a totally different species of bird.
This behavior is known as brood parasitism. It is practiced by a few birds all over the world. These parent birds do not want the fuss and work involved in raising their young.
The most commonly known bird who practices this behavior in North America is the Brown-headed Cowbird.
The female lays her eggs in the nests of other species when they have left the nest to find food or are still in the process of gathering nest material.
The adopted parent birds are totally unaware of the new addition to their nest, which is usually much larger than their own.
The new host parents will work hard to raise this often single, overgrown baby, as the parasite young bird will get rid of the host’s nestlings, by destroying the eggs, or tossing them out of the nest or smothering them.
It has been observed by wildlife scientists that some species of foster birds are learning to recognize the foreign egg as it arrives in their nest and is getting rid of it.
And in turn, the birds who practice brood parasitism are learning better ways to keep from being detected.
Fascinating behavior from both sides!
Help birds look after their young by providing birdhouses and nesting material.
Bird Houses & Building Bird Houses
Two modifications I would suggest to any birdhouse plans you make or purchase:
1. Omit to install the perches, as perches only assist predators to get in easier!
2. Make a modification to the birdhouse instructions to make it easy to open your birdhouse so you can clean it out every year in the autumn.
And answer this question before you start your search:
“Do you want a hanging bird home or do you want a birdhouse on a pole, in which case you will need to erect a birdhouse pole?
How To Build A
Bird House Books
- Attracting Backyard Birds: Is There Another Way? – Attracting backyard birds with bird feeders is one way to watch birds in your backyard. But are there other ways?
- Nesting Habits – Wild birds prepare for and raise their baby birds in many different ways. Some birds are solitary in their method and others are communal.
- Wild Bird Shelters for roosting or homes for cavity nesters are a good way to keep birds in your yard for great bird watching.