At the moment they hatch, baby birds are as small as the egg they came from, but when you first see a baby bird away from the nest it might be as big as its mother.
This can be confusing. How can a “baby” bird be so big? Well, first let’s talk about small babies and work up to the big ones.
Chuck Tague captured this sweet picture of a mother wood duck at Moraine State Park. Her babies are all we expect them to be: small and very cute.
Ducks and geese hatch precocial young, immediately mobile, relatively mature. The safest place for a duckling is on the water so right after they hatch they walk – or in the case of wood ducks, jump – from the nest to the lake and swim away with momma. That’s why we see little baby ducks.
I said “the safest place is on the water,” but there is almost no safe place for a duckling. They cannot fly to escape threats and they are not very quick swimmers. Turtles, water snakes and large fish take their toll. That’s why ducks and geese lay up to a dozen eggs per brood. This mother wood duck is doing pretty well to have half her young still with her.
Now for the big babies, the ones that are the same size as adults when we first see them.
Have you noticed that you never see a baby pigeon?
Birds that nest on cliffs but don’t swim – peregrine falcons and rock pigeons – have only one way to leave the nest. They must fly, and they must do it well enough to land in a safe place. Added to their problem is that their nest location is very windy.
For these birds the first flight is all or nothing. The best way to survive it is for the young to be adult size and fully feathered before they leave the nest. If there weren’t webcams on the peregrine nests we would never know the babies are small and white for several weeks. Pigeon nests don’t have webcams so we never see baby pigeons.
And so I come to the surprise people registered when they saw how big our fallen peregrine, Sky, was. How could he get that big in 6 weeks? Why is he so big if he only left the nest 18 days ago?
It’s confusing until you remember that all baby birds grow to adult size in a matter of weeks. It’s just that with baby ducks, we get to see the process.