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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Young Bird?

What Is That … Young Bird?

Waddells

One of our favourite summer pastimes at our cottage on White Lake is watching the numerous species of birds as they raise families.  We do not often see young birds in their nests; for that matter, we don’t often see nests as they are usually well hidden and we do not want to disturb them.  Most frequently we see young birds once they have left their nests, sometimes still with their parents and sometimes on their own.  Since the young birds often bear little resemblance to their adult parents, we have found it helpful and interesting to learn to identify juvenile birds too.  Most people are familiar with quintessential Canadian wilderness pictures of a black and white adult loon with one or two grey fluff ball chicks resting on their parent’s back.  In this article, we wanted to share photographs of several other species of young birds.

We begin our youthful journey with one of the few pictures we have of recently hatched chicks in their nest.  These American robin chicks were in a tidy, cup-shaped nest cleverly constructed in a fissure of a large rock along the roadside near our cottage.  Robins are the most numerous and visible member of the thrush family around White Lake.  This photo was taken, using a long lens so as not to disturb the chicks while the parents were away gathering insects and fruit for their young.  It was taken towards the end of July.  This was about a week after we first spotted the nest with four blue eggs in it.  While their eyes were closed when first hatched, you will note that at one week of age their eyes have opened.  Once fully grown these robins will measure up to 25 centimeters in length.

This mid-June photo shows three families of Canada geese that merged, presumably to improve their ability to protect their young which they do aggressively, something we have observed every year at our cottage.   We assume that one of the six original adult geese has been lost to predation.  The 10 chicks we see are the survivors of the 4 to 8 eggs laid by each breeding pair.  The young chicks can swim and forage on grass and seeds as soon as they have hatched and leave the nest.  When fully grown a goose can measure from 65 to 115 centimeters in length.  Canada geese are common and the most numerous waterfowl at our cottage.

Our next picture, taken at the end of May, shows a juvenile Eastern phoebe that has recently left the nest but still sports its downy juvenile body feathers   They are the most common member of the family of tyrant flycatchers at our cottage. This bird’s parents built their mud and grass nest among the floor joists of our elevated screened-in porch   Once fledged, the young accompany their parents, perching on good vantage points around the cottage from which to observe and pursue insects in flight or on the ground.  Fully grown, the birds can measure up to 18 centimeters in length.  We constantly cheer on these birds as they go about scooping up insects that like to feed on our blood.

During the March to August breeding season, adult male scarlet tanagers are scarlet-coloured with dark black wings and tail.  This juvenile male, which was photographed at the end of July, sports a more subdued mix of red and yellow feathers on its body.  These typically solitary birds can be difficult to spot as they go about searching for insects and larvae deep among the branches of trees.  Adults can grow to 18 centimeters in length.

The female wood duck nests in the cavities of trees or nesting boxes located near the water, as much as 20 meters above the ground. They lay from 9 to 12 eggs.  Once hatched, the flightless chicks plunge to the ground or water and follow their mother along the shore or around the pond where they feed on aquatic plants, small fish, amphibians, and aquatic insects.   They are the smallest member of the family of dabbling ducks, growing to 45 centimeters in length.  This mother and her five chicks were photographed in early July.

The flightless chicks of any waterfowl are easiest to identify as they are always found in the company of an adult parent.  It is more challenging to identify juveniles of species that leave the nest once they can fly.  If one is lucky, one might spot them being feed by an attentive parent but usually, they are solitary and their juvenile plumage makes them difficult to identify.

We relied on two field guides for preparing this article: Jeffrey C. Domm’s Lorimer Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds; and, David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.

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