I am an avid bird watcher and have been fortunate to watch Bluebirds nest every year for the past 6 to 7 years. This year I have paid particular attention to the fledglings leaving the nest and striking out on their own.
Some think baby birds grow up in a family that stays together and migrates South together. Actually, it is rare for a family to stay together after a nesting season. Most young birds are totally on their own soon after leaving the nest. The parents often migrate South long before the youngsters do.
The Eastern Bluebirds that I have been watching, nested early in the season. They started another family shortly after the first fledglings left the nest.
Birds that nest early have time to raise two families. If they do raise two families, they normally bond as a pair for the rest of the season.
The male bluebird takes over the feeding process for about 10 days, once the female begins a second nest. He teaches them how to fetch worms, grubs, and insects. By this time their diet is consistent with that of the adult bird.
When the fledgling first leaves the nest, it’s a big transition. They fly awkwardly to the nearest tree, fence or anything that keeps them off the ground. Mr. Blue is nearby calling baby blue. Baby blue makes another flight in his direction, then another, and another until he gets the idea.
I was working in the garden and observed the last fledgling leaving the nest with Mr. Blue coaxing him along.
My bluebirds get a standing ovation for the time, effort, and work they’ve put into raising two families. It can be a physiological strain on both parents.
Nestlings need to be fed every 20 minutes initially — at one day of age they eat spiders (higher in calories than insects). Two- to five-day old nestlings eat spiders, butterflies, and moth larva. Older nestlings feed on beetles, earthworms, crickets, and grasshoppers, basically the same diet as their parents. By day 13 –14 they are ready to leave the nest.
Bluebirds will remain with their parents and the fledglings of successive nesting during their first season grouping. Here they gather in a loose flock during the summer to feed. Southern migration is determined by the weather and food availability.
Juveniles of permanent residents such as Chickadees, Nuthatches, Finches, and Woodpeckers are much better off. Though their parents no longer care for them, at least they are still in familiar surroundings.
Leaving the nest is a hazardous time for all young birds. In addition to learning how to fly, birds must also learn how to feed and develop predator awareness — the price for not learning quickly enough is high. Life is far from easy for birds.