Watching a pair of Northern Mockingbirds raise two babies in our yard recently taught Katherine and me many lessons in bird behavior and how to identify birds.
I unconsciously applied these lessons when I was birdwatching at a friend’s ranch. The first clue was the sound. The sound of a baby or juvenile bird begging for food can be distinctive.
Hearing the thin piping sound, I looked around, trying to locate the source.
And then I saw it.
As soon as I saw this bird, I knew it was a juvenile. The baby Northern Mockingbirds had the same oversized beak.
The color of the bird, however did not give me much of a clue — though, if I was a better birder I would have noticed the white eyeing and the little bit of color on the juvenile’s breast. Those were clues as to its parentage.
The Juvenile bird took flight and landed near an adult American Robin. And here was another clue.
Even after they’ve left the nest, some juvenile birds expect their parent to feed them.
I didn’t see the parent rush off to find something for the beggar, but the juvenile had been taught well. It began to forage on its own. (Zoom in on the photo below to see what looks like a bug in its beak.)
American Robins are born essentially naked and helpless, also known as altricial. These birds need more time before they can leave the nest. Some birds–such as the Northern Mockingbirds Katherine and I observed–will technically leave the nest, but the parents will continue to feed them for up to three weeks.
Birds born almost ready to go from day one are precocial. Within days or even hours, they can leave the nest. Some can even find their own food.
Jennifer Ackerman writes, in “The Genius of Birds,” that altricial birds tend to be smarter birds. The extra time the parent spends with their young pays off.
Kind of how humans work.