For the birds: Who Are YOU, Little Bird?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Junco male feeding one of his young.
Adults come back to feed their babies,
 and don't need our help.

Text and Photos by Christine Southwick

Lots of hard to identify birds may be showing up in your yard, fluttering around, acting a little unsure, or totally unafraid of humans yet.

These are this year’s babies. As a group they are called “fledglings” since they have grown enough flight feathers to leave their nests - which is called fledging. 

If they have just left the nest within a week, they will still be fluttering their wings and begging to be fed.

Adult Spotted Towhee feeding his youngster -
note the fledgling's spots are orange-ish

Because they still learning how to survive, many of these young birds have major camouflage. 

Passerines (perching birds — meaning those that use trees), are full sized when they leave their nest, unlike water birds and ducks. 

So, don’t let their size fool you — they grew to full size in their nests, and mostly just have to grow their tail feathers (space-saving adaptation for nesters).

Spotted Towhee - larger than Song Sparrows-
still has extra coloring at mouth - called gape.
Spotted Towhees, our resident skulkers, have rufous coloring on either side of their white breasts, with some white spotting on their wings (most notable on the males), hence the name. 

These birds used to be called Rufous-sided Towhees, but the name was changed to distinguish the two separate Eastern and Western species (ours are the prettiest).

Spotted Towhee young are quite interesting to watch. Within a month of fledging, these dark over-sized-looking-sparrows start turning orange-ish on their bodies and looking more like their parents. 

By fall these youngsters will look like Spotted Towhees, except that their spots are lightly tinged orange, and their wings are dark brown, not black. It takes a lot of energy to grow new flight feathers, so only the body feathers are replaced until the following summer.

Our local Dark-eyed Juncos have fledglings with speckled chests, and no head color demarcation. The two best clues?
  1. Dark-eyed Juncos are the only birds in this area that have pink bills and pink legs, and
  2. the white outer tail feathers which show as they fly away

Spotted Towhee brings a grub
to one of the babies
Song Sparrow babies look mostly like their camouflaged parents, minus the tail, with less white on the head. Those brighter head feathers won’t change until the following summer.

Black-capped Chickadees and Chestnut-backed Chickadees look just like their parents, except the fledglings look brand new, while the parents look somewhat bedraggled until they replace (molt) their all their feathers in August.

All passerines you will see here have specific molt patterns; bird books can help when you are in doubt.

It is very important NOT to use pesticides, nor herbicides until after September.

Happy Birding!


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