What happens when young birds fledge and leave their nest?

By eNature

It’s happening all around us right now— young birds are leaving their nests and striking out on their own.

We at eNature have been watching the Osprey on the Chesapeake Bay fledging over the past few weeks.  When your nest if over water as most osprey do, you better be ready to fly when you take that first jump!

So how do all these young birds make the transition from fledgling to adult?


Family Style?

A lot of us think that baby birds grow up in a family that stays together and migrates south together. There are some species of birds that stay together after the nesting season, but they are rare.

Most young birds are totally on their own soon after they leave the nest. In fact, in many bird families, the parents migrate south long before their youngsters do.

The best examples of this are the families of most species of hummingbirds. The female raises her offspring until they are out of the nest and able to feed themselves. A few weeks later, she disappears. The youngsters are left alone to fatten up for their long migratory flight to a place in the tropics where they have never been before.

They linger at the natal feeding grounds for several more weeks, sucking up as much nectar, sugar water and tiny insects as possible before heading south.


What To Do For Food?

How do they know when to leave, where to go, how to get there and when they have arrived? There are lots of theories, but no one really knows for sure.  Herein lies one of the great mysteries of nature.

The same is true among juvenile ducks, warblers, vireos, flycatchers and thrushes. They are all deserted by their parents and left to find their way to some place in the South where there is food and habitat.

Juveniles of permanent residents such as chickadees, nuthatches, finches, and woodpeckers, are much better off. Though their parents no longer care for them, at least they are still in familiar surroundings.

And as for our ospreys on the Chesapeake?  The next few weeks are the moment of truth for them— they’ve got to learn to fish on their own.  According to some experts, an inability to master fishing is one of the biggest causes of mortality for young osprey.

Have you noticed your local birds fledging? There’s usually lots to see and hear when young birds are leaving the nest….