Baby Bird FAQ


⇒ How does a young bird break out of the egg?


During incubation the eggshell gradually weakens.  As the chick develops it puts pressure on the shell, which causes it to crack.  The chick uses its egg tooth to enlarge the crack and eventually break open the shell.


⇒ How long does it take the young bird to emerge from the shell?


It varies. Some species, such as waders, hatch quickly, whereas others may take hours.


⇒ What is a pullus and a fledging?


A pullus (plural, pulli) is the technical name given to a chick prior to leaving the nest. A fledgling is a bird that has just left the nest, i.e. it has fledged. The main classifications for pulli are precocial or altricial. These terms refer to the stage of development in young birds at the time of hatching.


Precocial birds hatch out already covered in down, with their eyes open and their hearing well developed.  The down dries within a few hours of hatching. They are active and mobile almost from the time they hatch, they can find or help to find their own food, and they have some control of their body temperature but continue to require brooding in cold or wet conditions. The word comes from the same root as ‘precocious’. Familiar species that are precocial are ducks, most waders, grouse, grebes and rails.


Altricial birds are hatched blind, naked and helpless. Typically, they have a large head and abdomen, yet underdeveloped legs and wings. They have large mouths, which open (usually) in a diamond shape.  The mouthparts are highly coloured contrasting with the outer body (typically, reds or oranges). An altricial bird requires considerable parental care before fledging. The word comes from the same root as ‘to nourish’. Familiar species that are altricial are passerines (songbirds), herons and hawks.


⇒ What should I do if I come across a bird’s nest?


A nest should be left strictly alone!  Even casual observation of the nest can cause stress to the parents and young birds.  Please note that it is an offence under the Wildlife Acts 1976-2000 to interfere with the nest of any wild bird.


⇒ What should I do if I find a baby bird out of the nest?


It should be kept in mind that the majority of baby birds found outside the nest are not in distress or in need of help.  It is not unusual for a baby bird to leave the nest before it is fully capable of flight.  This is true of many of our common species, e.g. Blackbird and Robin.  Unless you have experience of caring for birds, taking a baby bird in to care may often reduce its chances of survival; the majority of hand-reared baby birds do not survive.  This is not a decision to be taken lightly, and should only be done where you are absolutely certain that the chick has been abandoned.


If you encounter a baby bird out in the open, moving it to a safer location with some cover may help its chances.  If the chick is very young (with few or no feathers) and you know where the nest is, the best thing to do it to pop the chick back in and let the parents continue to care for it.  Do not stay in the vicinity as you may frighten off the adult birds and cause unnecessary stress to the chicks.

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