Posted by: atowhee | June 1, 2021


“Precocial” is a fine word used by professional bird scientists. It shares a root with “precocious” and is used to describe newly hatched birds that are ready to go. Literally. They must be ready to run. They are born eyes open, some feathers grown in, well-formed feet and toes, ready to run. No nestling can fly. That comes later for any young bird. Some precocial young are also waterproof and innately fine swimmers. One other precocial trait: the newborn can feed themselves. They may follow one or both parents around in the wide new world but they eat like mom or dad, no parental beak-stuffing.

If you are born on a nest sixty feet up a Doug fir you are not likely to run, you are likely to be a nearly naked, eyes shut little helpless critter with a wide open mouth where the food will be poked–robins, hawks, crows, hummers, woodpeckers, sparrows, finches, bluebirds, blackbirds. All are helpless at birth. Even some birds born on the ground, like juncos, begin as such bare bits of life.

Many birds born are the ground are speeding around within hours of hatching and have forever left whatever site was used to hide the eggs. Killdeer, many ducks, geese, cranes, chickens and grouse and quail. Precocial. Off to the racing. Many of these are fine swimmers before their first post-egg nightfall. And these precocial birdlings can follow parents. Often these parents are like quail and Canada Geese, very attentive and protective.

Some precocials:

As always there are some confusing natural misfits–a few duck species that nest in cavities (usually nest holes used by flickers or other natural woodworkers). At the ripe old age of two (days) or three, these ducklings must freefall thirty feet or more, bounce three times and then run to the nearest open water with mom. No fathers involved with these species–Wood Duck, Buffleheads, Hooded Merganser and a few more.

Recently I recorded short audio segments on the California Quail and Canada Goose. Each will be airing on KRCB-FM, 104.9, the NPR station in Sonoma County, CA. Click here for the station’s website:


  1. Thanks for your continued informative articles on nesting bird behavior.

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