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.
On this page
- How Do Birds Build Nests?
- Incubation Period
- How Long Do Baby Birds Stay In The Nest?
- Frequently Asked Questions
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.
Birds with larger eggs have longer incubation times. For example, the Barn Owl and Red-tailed Hawk incubate for more than a month, whereas the huge Harpy Eagle has an incubation time of 56 days.
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.
How Long Do Baby Birds Stay In The Nest?
Small 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 a baby Bald Eagle 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.
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.