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How Do Birds Know When It’s Time to Leave the Nest?

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birds nest

Like humans, birds have periods in life when they depend on their parents and those where they go off on their own to start new adult lives. These changes depend on many factors. The parent birds must calculate many things before sending their babies out in the wild. One of the risks is being too unprotected and vulnerable as a group to many predators that may come their way.

For birds that make nests that are unprotected in the wilderness, it is a huge risk daily; they can be exposed to predators at any time. The longer these baby birds stay in their nests, the more exposed to the danger they get, both young birds and their parents.

Another thing that can be a considerable risk factor for baby birds is leaving the nest too early when their wings and bodies haven’t developed enough so they can take care of themselves. These situations can lead to very threatening problems or even deadly. So the time for them to leave the nest has to be perfectly aligned with the circumstances and their abilities.

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How long do baby birds stay in the nest?

The time that baby birds spend in their nests before leaving can vary from one bird species to another, and it can be anything from 2-3 weeks to as long as 10 weeks. This time frame can usually be affected by the surroundings of the birds. If the nest is built in a more open and unprotected area, the birds are more likely to attract predators, so the young ones have to leave their nests as soon as possible. There is no time for them to be stationed in one place. If the nest is built in a more secure and hidden area and stronger than other nests, they don’t have to hurry. Still, their odds of survival will become slimmer if they wait longer. Their parents may try to convince and lure them into leaving as soon as possible, but the baby birds will try to stay as long as possible.

baby birds in their nest

Image Credit: Savanevich Viktar, Shutterstock

What are the stages of development that baby birds go through?

There are three stages that young birds have when growing up to become independent birds.

  • The first stage is when the bird is called a This stage is when the birds are 0-3 years old. At this stage, they haven’t yet opened their eyes, and they are fragile to leave the nest on their own.
  • The second stage, when the bird is a nestling, comes when they are 3-13 days old. Their eyes have opened, but their bodies haven’t yet developed enough. They still didn’t grow out of their baby feather. The feathers resemble fragile tubes, which serve as a protective sheath that will soon break off to expose stronger feathers. The baby birds are still not ready to leave the nest and take care of themselves at this point.
  • The third stage, and the last one, is when the bird is called a When the young bird reaches this stage, it is finally ready to leave the nest. This stage is when birds are 13-14 days old or even older than that. The birds have developed their feathers fully, although their wings and tails may be shorter than those on an adult bird. They cannot fly yet, but they can flutter their wings, hop around or even walk independently. Even though these baby birds have left their nests, their parents will still be around, watching over them, ensuring no danger comes their way.
birds-nest

Image Credit: Pixabay

What happens if birds leave the nest too early?

When the young bird leaves the nest too soon, that decision can bring fatal consequences. Leaving too quickly means that their wings haven’t developed fully or enough for them to be capable of taking care of themselves. They might not be able to fly if they are not careful, or even flying poorly can be dangerous at times. Both the parent birds and the young ones need to carefully decide when to leave, although leaving before the adequate time can be smarter than leaving too late.

Sometimes, if dangers are coming their way, the parents may decide to let go of their young ones into the wild, ensuring the survival of at least one of their babies. This means that the death toll of these early bloomers can be as high as 70%. Still, when comparing these statistics, the survival rate for those leaving earlier is much more successful than those staying in the nest longer.

Scytalopus bird

Image Credit: Agami Photo Agency, Shutterstock

What happens if birds leave the nest too late?

Leaving the nest too late can be fatal for both the baby birds and their bird parents. Even though the baby birds are finally ready to care for themselves and live independently at that point in their lives, they still enjoy better staying in the nest a bit more. While the baby birds will try and prolong this for as much as possible, the parent will try their best to make their birds fly away. Even though this behavior sounds cruel, parent birds usually have strong reasons for that and may save the baby bird’s life.

Believe it or not, sometimes it is better to leave the nest earlier than stay for too long. Having all of their young ones still in their nest together can pose a massive risk for the whole group. The more birds there are in one nest, the bigger the chances are predators will discover them. The parent birds are just hoping that one of their offspring survives, and they can ensure this by sending their babies out of the nest in time.

baby birds

Image Credit: kytka, Pixabay

What happens with the birds after leaving the nest?

If the bird has developed feathers, that means the final stage of the baby bird’s development has occurred, and the baby bird became a fledgling. They are now officially ready to begin their journey. After leaving the nest for the first time, the birds won’t be on their own right away. They will be followed by and watched over by their parents. Even though they leave the nest and become adults, their parents will still look after them in their first days as adults. Think of this step as some kind of coaching; the parents are coaching their baby birds on how to stay safe when alone in the wilderness.

Bird’s first step would be finding food. Most of them cannot fly yet, but they can walk and hop pretty well. Their fat reserves are pretty small, and they might not survive the night due to starvation. They will have to keep a constant lookout for any predators lurking. They are unprotected now and independent in making their choices, and if they make one wrong choice, it could be the end of them. The first year will be the toughest one for them. They will be most vulnerable at this time and most fragile and scared. Their odds are against them at this time. After a year has passed, their odds of survival keep getting bigger and bigger.

silvereye bird in mulberry tree

Image Credit: Pixabay

What to do if you find a baby bird on the ground?

When finding a baby bird out of its nest and on the ground, most of us will have the urge to pick it up and take care of it; but that is not how things work. Taking the bird can lead to a fatal outcome for the bird. Watch out for these simple clues:

  • If the baby bird cannot fly away on its own but does not have injuries anywhere on its body, leave it where you found it. There is probably a parent bird looking out for it, teaching their young ones, and challenging them to manage independently.
  • Try locating the nest that the fledgling fell out off. If you manage to do so, just put the fledgling back, and do not worry about those myths of birds sensing your smell and rejecting the fledgling. If you cannot see a nest nearby, try crafting one similar to the actual nest and attaching it to the spot close to where you found the baby bird.
  • Make sure not to feed the bird, as they are still too small, and any mistakes in their diets may cause permanent deformities.
  • If you see a bird injured in any way, whether it is young or an adult, try contacting a local bird rescue organization, with minimum treatment on your own.
man's hand feeding baby bird

Image Credit: Alexander_Safonov, Shutterstock

Related Read: Can Birds Pick Up Their Babies? What You Need to Know!

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Final Thoughts

Birds are incredible and extraordinary little creatures. They deserve for people to admire them because they can charm anybody with their fun and kooky virtues. You can recognize some of their behavior patterns in human behavior. Birds will impress anyone who tries to learn a thing or two about them, and they will always leave the interested reader wanting more.

When you’ve finished reading this fun and educational article, you should have some more helpful information lodged in your brain about birds’ interesting and impressive habits. This article contains some valuable tips for finding yourself in a tricky situation. Make sure to read it carefully to know how to handle these situations like a proud admirer of birds.


Featured Image Credit: Kletr, Shutterstock

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

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