Baby birds are special in many ways – they use specific sounds to get their parents' attention, they have unique behavior patterns to beg for food, they have soft down feathers to keep warm and they are camouflaged to keep safe from predators. It is no surprise, then, that there are special names for baby birds, including terms that refer to young birds of certain families. Knowing those terms can help birders refer to baby birds properly in their notes or when contacting bird rescue centers or birding organizations, or just to have fun when talking about birds.
Generic Names for Baby Birds
There are a variety of generic names that can be used to refer to any baby birds, from ducks to raptors to songbirds to shorebirds. The term "chick" is the most common, and can describe any baby bird from the moment it hatches until it leaves the nest. There are other generic baby bird terms, however, that can also be used with baby birds of different ages.
- Hatchling: A very recently hatched baby bird that does not yet have more than sparse down and may not have open eyes or any ability to care for itself. This term is most frequently used to refer to altricial chicks.
- Nestling: A young bird that is several days old and is covered with down. These birds are more active and demanding, but are not yet ready to care for themselves. They may be beginning to grow flight feathers but are nowhere near ready to leave the nest.
- Fledgling: A young bird that has developed most of its flight feathers and is ready to leave the nest, though it may remain under its parents' care for some time after actually vacating the nest. These birds are awkward and inexperienced, and do not fly well.
- Juvenile: A bird that has grown past the most awkward youth stages but is not yet a mature adult. Juvenile birds may look similar to adults but still show some of the camouflage of their youth, and their field marks may not be as well defined as mature birds.
- Subadult: An immature bird that, while it has left the nest and is able to care for itself, is not yet sexually mature and lacks all the distinct field marks of adults. Larger birds, such as gulls and eagles, take several years to fully mature, and subadult plumage stages can be confusing for birders to identify.
Baby Bird Names for Specific Bird Families
While generic names for baby birds can be used for any bird species, specific bird families have more unique names for their young. The most popular names for baby birds include:
- Chicken: Poult, cockerel (male), pullet (female)
- Crane: Colt
- Dove: Squab, squeaker
- Duck: Duckling
- Eagle: Eaglet
- Falcon: Eyas
- Goose: Gosling
- Grouse: Cheeper, squealer
- Owl: Owlet
- Sandpiper: Peep
- Swan: Cygnet, flapper
- Turkey: Poult, jake (male), jenny (female)
The exact bird species is irrelevant when using these baby bird names: a baby bald eagle is an eaglet, and a baby golden eagle is an eaglet as well. To distinguish between species, terms like "bald eaglet" or "golden eaglet" might be used, or the birds can be referred to by species with a more generic term, such as "bald eagle chick."
If you use more specific baby bird names, be aware that these terms are typically only used when the birds are young. After they have left the nest or family group and are caring for themselves, even if they are not yet fully mature, they are no longer referred to by their baby names.
If You See a Baby Bird
No matter what you call it, seeing a baby bird can be exciting. Their charming behavior is designed to elicit the attention and sympathy of their parents, and those same behaviors are just as effective on humans. If you find a baby bird, however, the best course of action is to leave it alone so its parents can care for it. Even baby birds that seem abandoned are seldom left alone for long, but if you do spot an owlet, squab, flapper or chick…
- Keep your distance. Approaching the bird closely will cause it more stress and may keep parent birds from returning as regularly to care for it.
- Protect the area. Keep pets and small children indoors, and do nothing that could draw attention to the young bird and make it more vulnerable to predators.
- Contact a rehabber if necessary. If the baby bird appears sick, injured or in distress, or if the parent birds have not returned in several hours to care for it, contact a bird rescue organization so the baby can receive proper care.
From tiny chicks to nearly mature subadults, baby birds are always fun to see, and it's even more fun when you know just what to call baby birds of different species. Understanding these young birds can help you get even more enjoyment out of birding during the breeding season.
Photo – Swan and Cygnet © L.C. Nøttaasen