Birds are a large and fascinating part of our world, so we can’t help but wonder how long do baby birds stay in the nest?
How long does it take for eggs to hatch? When do baby birds leave the nest?
The answers to these questions vary, but most songbirds are born naked and helpless after being incubated for two weeks, and then stay in the nest for two weeks more.
Ducks and other species incubate for longer periods, are born covered in feathers, and follow their mother hours after hatching. Meanwhile, some birds stay with their parents longer and help take care of their new hatchlings.
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How Do Birds Build Nests?
Birds build nests to safely incubate eggs and raise young.
Since the young are vulnerable, nests are hidden in dense vegetation, camouflaged, or built in tree cavities.
Nests are made with grass, twigs, rootlets, other vegetation, and even shed snake skins. Swallows make nests out of mud, and many species line nests with feathers and soft leaves.
Nest building starts with choosing a spot where the nest is as safe and secure as possible. For meadowlarks and other ground nesting birds, the nest is hidden and looks just like the grass. For waterbirds, the nesting colony might be on an island or other place that helps protect them from predators.
In the majority of species, the female constructs the nest. She uses sticks as a base and then adds more materials until the nest has a platform for the eggs.
In the case of small birds like vireos, the nest can be a soft, round cup of grass and leaves camouflaged with lichen, or, as with orioles, be a wonderfully woven nest hanging from a branch.
Most songbirds incubate 17 to 18 days, although this is not always true.
Related: When do birds start laying eggs?
That’s a long time to hatch eggs but the longest incubation period for a bird was 90 days. That record was made by a Mallee Fowl, a mound-nesting bird from Australia that leaves its eggs to incubate in a warm mound of vegetation.
Other species with long incubation periods are Wandering and Royal Albatrosses, and the Kiwis. These birds incubate for 80+ days, but also occasionally leave the nest. The record for the longest continuous incubation goes to the Emperor Penguin, a bird that places the egg on its feet and incubates it for 60 days.
During incubation, female and/or males have a “brood patch“, a bare area of skin to keep the eggs warm. In high temperatures, the parent might stand up and shade the eggs or wet their breast feathers to cool them down.
The parent incubating the eggs is often fed by their mate, and their mate also helps protect the nest.
Stages of Development
Baby birds who have recently hatched are known as hatchlings.
Altricial birds are born helpless – in the beginning, they are blind, immobile, with undeveloped wings and pinkish skin covered only with thin, fluffy downy feathers. Their parents take care of them, bringing them meal after meal.
You are probably familiar with robins and sparrows, but owls, starlings, woodpeckers, , and even penguins rely heavily on their parents.
Precocial birds are quite the opposite. They are mobile and have developed eyesight, which allows them to forage independently and follow their parents around. Some of the brightest examples are ducklings, goslings, and baby quails.
Young birds that can not fly yet are considered nestlings. They are more developed than newly hatched birds but still lack the necessary survival skills.
Once the birds are older, they move on to the fledgling stage. Fledglings are baby birds that have flight feathers on their wings, mostly adult or adult-like plumage and are learning to fly and fend for themselves.
Usually, they still rely on their parents to some extent, but since they are more mobile, juvenile birds usually forage with their parents, learning everything they need.
How Long Do Baby Birds Stay In The Nest?
Small bird species leave the nest ten days to two weeks after hatching. At this time, they also make brief flights and continue to be fed by their parents for several days more, at least until they can fly well on their own.
Ducks, shorebirds, and grouse can leave the nest within hours of hatching, but big birds, such as baby Bald Eagles might stay for 90 days, and a baby California Condor can remain in the nest for six months!
Once baby birds can fly, some species fend for themselves, but most still require some food from their parents for a short time, just not as much as when they were nestlings.
Leaving the nest depends largely on the species. Here are some examples:
- American Robin: 13-14 days
- Northern Cardinal: 7-13 days
- House Sparrow: 10-14 days
- Blue Jays: 17-21 days
- Barn Owls: 50-55 days
- Great-horned Owls: 42 days
- Red-tailed Hawks: 42-46 days
- Common Loons: few hours to 2 days
- Mallards: ~15 hours
- Canada Geese: 1-2 days
Frequently Asked Questions
How long do baby birds stay with their mother?
Most baby birds stay with their mother for three weeks after leaving the nest.
How long does it take for a baby bird to fly?
On average, most baby birds of small species begin to fly after 19 days.
Can baby birds survive without their mother?
No. Nestlings need their mother to be fed and stay warm.
Can you touch a baby bird that has fallen out of its nest?
Yes, but we should only touch baby birds to put them back into their nest or in nearby vegetation.