The garden’s concert of birdsong has died down now: instead it’s full of young birds, offspring of first, or even second, broods, newly fledged and learning fast. Blue tits predominate, still looking slightly fluffy and tending to stick together in sibling groups. There are plenty of blackbirds too, hefty youngsters towering over their harassed parents who seem shabby and worn out by all that intense parenting. And parenting varies a lot between species. Many waders, like curlews and plovers, and water fowl, like mallards and gooseanders, lead their chicks away from the nest site almost immediately after hatching – hence the tiny balls of fluff you sometimes find crouching in moorland vegetation relying on stillness and camouflage to survive, or the flotillas of ducklings on the river, clearly feeling safety in water – and numbers. These families quickly learn to feed themselves.
Our familiar garden birds keep their brood in the nest till they’re grown and even continue feeding fledglings for days. These youngsters sometimes cause us identification problems. A low profile is still important so they tend to be less strikingly colourful than adults. Tits are easy to recognize – they’re just a bit duller and more blurry. Young blackbirds – male and female – resemble females but are a ruddier brown with lighter breasts. Bullfinches, too, all have the subtler colouring of females but lack the smart black cap, and goldfinch youngsters are without those stylish red, black and white facial markings though they do have the yellow wing bars. Probably the most confusing case is the robin. Young robins look rather like small squat thrushes with speckled rather than red breasts. If you have a robin family in your garden you will be able to see how gradually the speckles become flushed with yellow then intensify into red.
However, the problems for the bird watcher are as nothing to the problems faced by fledglings. This is their most vulnerable few weeks and many will die. There are a number of simple ways we can help:-
1. Don’t go in for rash “rescuing”. Usually a young bird is not lost or abandoned. Make sure it’s in cover and leave it to its parents.
2. Place stickers on big windows to prevent fatal collisions.
3. Cat owners – please try to keep your pets in overnight. Most damage is done in the early hours of the morning.
Then enjoy this engaging season.
Photo by Monique Haen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons