Nests and Fledglings

Standing in a driveway in western Pennsylvania yesterday, a robin flew quickly from a garage as I walked by. Today I watched a robin, probably the same as yesterday, flush from the same place. Both times the bird flew maybe ten meters before perching and making several alarm calls. Both times it remained nearby, calling, until I left. The robin had a good reason to stick around. Inside the garage, in an old hanging basket, it had a nest with several mostly naked chicks.*

naked robin chicks in nestAmerican robins, due to their tolerance of humans and our habitations, are fantastic birds to seek out in the spring, especially if you want to watch the nesting process. Last year, a robin built a nest under the roof eave of my house. It was a perfect location for the bird—secluded, hidden, and difficult for predators to access—and for me since the nest was only two feet outside of my bathroom window. It was a great opportunity to witness the growth and behavior the chicks in the nest, and I could watch it with minimal disturbance to the birds. Several times a day I watched the nest, the highlights of which I compiled into a video.

For American robins, the timespan from the start of incubation to fledging is very short, generally less than one month total. All the robins in the video above fledged within 13 days of hatching, growing nearly to the size of their parents during that short time.

Adult robin (upper left) and fledgling robin (lower right) perched on tree branches. Tree is big leaf maple.

A robin fledgling (lower right) follows one of its parents a day after fledging.


After these young songbirds fledged, their parents still had work to do. The fledglings followed mom and dad, continuing to beg for food, and the parents had to keep a watchful eye for predators. It’s difficult job and most robin chicks don’t survive to adulthood.

Once they leave the nest, fledglings of many species aren’t silent. I found this yellow-rumped warbler fledgling last spring by its impressively loud begging calls.

In temperate North America, mid spring to early summer is an exciting time to watch birds. The next time you’re outside, watch and listen carefully. You may find many birds very busy with the business of reproduction and survival.

*Please watch bird nests ethically. The nesting season is a stressful and difficult time for young and adult birds alike. Adult birds will likely view you as a threat. Some birds are very sensitive to disturbance and may abandon their nest and young. Careless footsteps may trample eggs or chicks of ground nesting species. Some birds, like killdeer, will expend considerable energy trying to distract and lure you away from their nest. Keep enough distance between you and the nest to avoid disturbance and watch through binoculars.