Bay Journal

Baby bird blues

  • By Kathleen Gaskell on April 11, 2017
A wood duck hen and her chicks rest on a log.  (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service)

It’s a good thing that birds don’t get their parenting advice from humans. These successful behaviors for raising young birds are not likely to be found in any (human) child-raising book. Can you match the bird species with its practice? Answers are below.


A. What nest? My egg is laid in a scrape in the ground that is so shallow, it barely prevents my egg from falling out.

B. My parents use snakeskins to decorate our nest. (Rather than give the nestlings’ nightmares, it helps to trick nightmarish predators from raiding the “snake nest.”)

C. My parents drop live blind snakes in the nest for us to eat. Should one of these snakes escape, it may burrow beneath or nest and eat live insect larvae that would otherwise parasitize me and my siblings. (A study by Baylor University scientists found that these nestlings grow faster and healthier in nests with this snaky maid service.)

D. Our parents feed us feathers when we are very young! (This helps to protect the bird’s stomach from sharp fish bones.)

E. Leftovers again? My parents will cache the food my fellow nestlings and I don’t eat and feed it to us later. Beats the alternative. When there’s not enough food, we nestlings size each other up, decide who’s the weakest and pick on him or her till he or she dies. Then, we eat our sibling.

F. My parents harass great blue heron nestlings until they throw up. Then, my parents scoop up the vomit to feed to me and my siblings.

G. What’s shaking? My mom. She is known to shake the nest from when I am egg through when I am a nestling. (Scientists believe this could be a way to remove vermin and parasites in the nest.)

H. Get down here now! My siblings and I are only 1-day-old and mom expects us to hop out of our nests to the ground — which can be 30 feet below!

I. My siblings and I just hatched this morning and a few hours later, the whole family hit the road. I am told that had we been born late in the afternoon,we could have rested overnight before setting out in the morning.

J. My parents take favoritism to an extreme. They dote on my older sibling. It cost them nothing to lay me, the second egg, but make no mistake, all I am to them is an insurance policy should something happen to big brother or sister.

K. How AWWK-ward! Mom and dad have started renewing their courtship before I have even left the nest.

L. Forget "who’s your daddy?" I don’t even know who mom is. She laid my egg in the nest belonging to other birds so they could raise me.



A. common tern
B. tufted titmouse
C. Eastern screech owl 
D. horned grebe 
E. Northern goshawk
F. turkey vulture
G. Eastern bluebird
H. wood duck
I. Northern bobwhite 
J. whooping crane 
K. pileated woodpecker 
L. brown-headed cowbird

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About Kathleen Gaskell

Kathleen A. Gaskell, the layout & design editor for the Bay Journal, has been involved with several environmental programs for children.

Read more articles by Kathleen Gaskell


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