Some birds can leave the nest the day after hatching, while others have to wait for half a year.
Why is this? Is it related to size, climate, or something else?
Well, it turns out that larger birds do take more time to leave the nest, but there are some birds that definitely aren’t small, and they leave the nest the very next day after hatching.
So, what’s the deal? Time to find out.
It Depends On The Species
There’s no set time period for leaving the nest.
Birds leave the nest when they grow their feathers and wing muscles, thus developing their flight capabilities. This process is called fledging.
Smaller birds usually take a few weeks to fledge and leave the nest. Larger birds need more feathers and stronger muscles to fly, so they need more time to leave the nest.
The time period for leaving the nest isn’t only defined by flight capabilities – terns regularly leave the nest before learning to fly. However, these species are usually exceptions, as most birds will learn to fly first.
Birds that leave the nest before learning to fly usually rely on their parents to care for them for a while.
Western grebes, for example, leave the nest almost immediately after hatching, but their parents protect them and feed them for weeks before they learn to fly.
Speaking of parental reliance, some birds will still maintain a relationship with their parents (or at least the mother) even after leaving the nest.
This relationship can last for months in some cases, as the parents teach the young bird how to find food.
Baby American Robins Leave Their Nests First
A single American robin will lay eggs, raise its young, and watch it leave the nest two or three times a year! This is only possible because these birds have such a short fledging period.
The female, who is the sole caretaker among American robins, will keep the eggs warm and safe for about two weeks before they hatch. The chicks will take another two weeks to fledge and learn how to fly, at which point they’ll fly away.
In some cases, they can leave the nest after a mere nine days have passed! The northern cardinal can sometimes get close to that, leaving the nest in 11 days.
It’s important to note that once the baby birds leave the nest – they’re gone for good. The mother won’t care for them anymore.
There are a few other species that leave the nest even quicker than the American robin, but they don’t fledge during that time. Wooden ducks, terns, guillemots, and killdeer are good examples.
These birds are usually aquatic and they leave the nest despite not knowing how to fly because they rely on parental care, or they use a body of water for feeding and staying away from predators.
Baby Laysan Albatrosses Leave Their Nests Last
It can take 65 days for an egg of the Laysan albatross to hatch, after which it takes another 160 days to fledge. During the fledging process, the baby chick’s parents have to hunt for food every day and support the intense growth.
The reason these birds take that long to leave the nest lies in their size. They have a wingspan of about 78 inches (on average). The American robin, the quickest-fledging bird, has a wingspan of only 14 inches on average.
By the time the bird leaves the nest, it’s completely grown up and ready to live on its own.
All albatrosses are long-living birds, with a Laysan albatross female, called Wisdom, being the oldest-living bird at more than 70 years of age.
In comparison, the longest lifespan of an American robin in the wild is about 14 years, while the average is about 2 years.
Albatrosses are generally healthier, more resistant birds – this is related to their size, but also to the long fledging period, as the chick doesn’t leave the nest until it’s really ready.
Other examples of birds that take a lot of time to leave the nest include Magellanic penguins and golden eagles. The former are cared for by the parents for about 30 days.
Just like albatrosses, golden eagles can live for a long time in the wild – most likely longer than 30 years.
When Do The Most Common Birds In The USA Leave The Nest?
To make it easy for you, here’s a table with the most common bird species in America and their fledging periods.
|Bird Species||Leaves the Nest After|
|Northern mockingbird||11 to 13 days|
|Common starling||2 months|
|Western grebe||A few hours or a day on parent’s back (takes 10 weeks to learn to fly)|
|American goldfinch||11-15 days|
|Downy woodpecker||18-21 days|
|House finch||11-19 days|
|Blue jay||17-21 days|
|Northern cardinal||10-11 days|
|Lesser goldfinch||12-14 days|
|Black-billed magpie||3-4 weeks|
|American yellow warbler||8-9 days|
|Common grackle||10-17 days|
|Brewer’s blackbird||12-16 days|
|Anna’s hummingbird||18-23 days|
|House sparrow||14-16 days|