We all know birds can fly, but not many of us know this: how LONG it actually takes for birds to learn to fly! I myself wondered about this question but didn’t find much useful information online with a direct answer to my question. So I did a little research + my own data analysis of fledging periods to answer this question! Here’s what I found:
Birds take an average of about 19 days, ranging from 12 to 21 days, to learn to fly after hatching. This fledging period varies among species: American Robins fledge in just 9 days, but Bald Eagles can take up to 72 days. Most large birds take a longer period to learn to fly than smaller birds.
In this article, I will unpack and discover even MORE insights on how fledging periods (how long they take to fly!) vary in birds. Read on and I’ll try to make you become a “full-fledged” expert!
Baby Birds Learning To Fly: A Summary of The Stages
There are 6 stages in which baby birds mature into an adult:
|Hatchlings||Just hatched from their egg. Most are featherless and have sealed eyes (Altricial).|
|Nestlings||Remain in their nest and are still dependent on their parents for food.|
|Fledgling||Fully developed feathers for flight. No full adult plumage yet.|
|Subadults||The transition between fledgling and adult. Their plumage looks like neither.|
|Immature||More adult-like plumage.|
|Adults||Achieved adult plumage and are independent.|
However, we will just focus on the stages in which birds begin to learn to take flight: the fledging period. The fledging period is the duration from when baby birds begin developing at the hatchling phase, when they first hatch, until the fledgling stage, when they grow their first feathers for their first flight!
Oh, if you’re curious about how long it takes for a baby bird to grow up, check out an interesting article I wrote on it here! I did some deep research and you’re gonna love the results I found! If you’re curious how long bird eggs take to hatch, check out an article where I did the same deep analysis over here!
Here’s a video showing how a baby bird takes its first flight! Fledging starts at the 3:23 mark.
In this article, I will be examining the fledging periods (how long they take to fly!) of birds from over 200 species from a dataset retrieved from NestWatch.org, a citizen science database on bird’s nesting activity in the US and Canada. Let’s explore more:
How Long Birds Take To Learn To Fly: Fledging Period Distribution
As mentioned above, the fledging period of a bird is the time period that a bird takes to fly, from hatching to developing its flight feathers for the first time it takes to the skies! However, learning that the average is 18 days and that it can range from 12 to 21 days isn’t quite enough right? Let’s look at some visuals: a distribution among different bird species for the past 20 years!
Here’s what the above is all about: each blue dot represents a single species out of all the species analyzed in this experiment. You can see that the data all clusters around the same area: within the range of the Upper Hinge and the Lower Hinge (towards the left). In simple terms, this represents the fledging period range: where most birds will take to learn to fly!
There’s something really cool that I found: the time that a single Jabiru in the data took to fledge is a whopping 96 days! Now that’s almost 5-6 times longer than most birds’ fledging periods. However, more data needs to be collected to be more precise as it came from only 1 nest. Apparently, Jabirus in the wild can take up to 110 days to fledge according to the Animal Diversity Web’s website.
Fledging Period Dashboard Tool
At this point, you’ve seen all these still images… boring right? Here, I have prepared a FREE DASHBOARD TOOL for you to interact and discover the data for yourself! Enjoy!
Variation In Fledging Periods Among Different Bird Species
Now that you’ve had a peek at the distribution of fledging periods, don’t you want to know a bit more? Let’s look more into the details with regards to species and their differences in fledging periods. Here’s a graph showing our top contenders with the highest few average fledging periods:
The graph above shows the average fledging periods of different bird species in days. I took a screenshot to show just the top few species. You can refer to the dashboard tool I made above to interact with the graph for yourself!
Birds With Long Fledging Periods
Judging from the top 10 bird species with the longest fledging periods, most of them seem to belong to bigger birds and in fact, most of them are birds of prey. Let’s compare them in more detail:
|Examples of Bird Species With Long Fledging Periods||Average Fledging Period (Days)||Weight Range At Adulthood (pounds)||Image|
|Jabiru||96||9.5 – 19.8|
|Great Blue Heron||74.5||4.5 – 8|
|Black Vulture||74.3||3.8 – 5.1|
|Golden Eagle||73.5||6 – 15|
|Bald Eagle||72.5||6 – 15|
|Barn Owl||65.4||1 – 1.5|
|Turkey Vulture||55.5||4 – 5|
|Osprey||54.5||2 – 4.5|
|Ferruginous Hawk||48.5||2.2 – 4.5|
Birds With Medium Fledging Periods
Not all birds fledge at the same insanely long rate as the birds in the previous table! The majority of birds fall into this category: birds with a medium fledging period. If you notice, the birds in this category tend to be smaller than the birds with longer fledging periods. This could be because regular-sized birds don’t require such a long time to finish fledging.
|Examples of Bird Species With Normal Fledging Periods||Average Fledging Period (Days)||Weight At Adulthood (ounces)||Image|
|bluebird sp.||19.2||1 – 1.1|
|Chestnut-backed Chickadee||19.1||0.3 – 0.4|
|Baya Weaver||19.0||0.9 – 1|
|European Starling||18.8||2.0 – 3.5|
|Bank Swallow||18.5||0.4 – 0.7|
Birds With Short Fledging Periods
Birds also have really short fledging periods; they can take to the skies in less than 2 weeks! Here are some example of birds with short fledging periods:
|Examples of Bird Species With Short Fledging Periods||Average Fledging Period (Days)||Weight At Adulthood (ounces)||Image|
|Summer Tanager||10.0||1.0 – 1.1|
|White-winged Dove||10.0||4.4 – 6.6|
|Wilson’s Warbler||10.0||0.2 – 0.3|
|White-eyed Vireo||9.3||0.3 – 0.5|
|American Robin||9.2||2.5 – 3.3|
|Prairie Warbler||9.0||0.2 – 0.3|
|Field Sparrow||8.6||0.4 – 0.5|
|Blue-gray Gnatcatcher||8.0||0.2 – 0.3|
|Cactus Wren||8.0||1.2- 1.7|
As expressed in the data above, we can somewhat see that the birds with shorter fledging periods have a lower weight, as compared to birds with longer fledging periods. I find this so cool, don’t you think?
What Month Do Baby Birds Leave The Nest?
Most baby birds leave their nest during the month of June. However, this period can range from May to July. 39% of baby birds left their nests in the month of June alone. Birds also leave their nests during other months of the year, but they make up a small minority of less than 1%.
After learning how long it took for birds to fly, I was curious to find out the answers to another question: Which month do birds actually fledge and leave their nest for the first time? With the fledging data that I had, I decided to probe further. Here’s a graph of how it looks like!
Bird Fledging Observations In A Year
Feel free to play around with it in the interactive graph above!
|Month||Number Of Observations||Percentage Of Total (%)|
Bird fledging reaching its peak in the month of June makes a lot of sense, since most birds lay their eggs in the month of May, and take a number of weeks to hatch.
If you’re interested to know which time of the year birds lay eggs, check out another post I wrote here! In fact, I also wrote an article on how long it takes for bird eggs to hatch: check it out here! In these 2 other articles, I include INTERACTIVE tools like the above dashboard so you can play around with the data. Enjoy!
How Do You Know When Baby Birds Are Ready To Leave The Nest?
Birds are ready to leave the nest when they are fully fledged with feathers. Most birds typically fledge within 12 to 21 days. Larger birds tend to take a longer time to fledge than smaller birds and can even take up to 100 days to fledge and eventually leave the nest.
Do Baby Birds Fledge In The Morning?
Most baby birds fledge in the morning — within 6 hours of sunrise. This is because when a baby bird hits a threshold of development in the nest overnight, it will wait to fledge early the next day. The time of day baby birds fledge does not affect their survival thereafter. [1, 2]
What Time of Day Do Baby Birds Leave The Nest?
Most baby birds leave the nest in the morning — within 6 hours of sunrise. This is because when baby birds hit a threshold of development in the nest overnight, they will wait to fledge and leave the nest the next day. The time of day baby birds leave their nest does not affect their survival thereafter. [1, 2]
So in this article, we have talked briefly about the stages of a baby bird, the distribution of how long birds take to fledge, looked at some species with different fledging periods and found out the month birds fledge the most. I hope you’ve learned something from this as much as I did. I hope you enjoyed reading this article and thanks for reading! Happy birding!
- Scott J. Chiavacci, Michael P. Ward, Thomas J. Benson, 2015. Why fledge early in the day? Examining the role of predation risk in explaining fledging behavior, Behavioral Ecology, Volume 26, Issue 2, , Pages 593–600, https://doi.org/10.1093/beheco/aru236
- Santema, P., Schlicht, L., Beck, K. B., Sheldon, B. C., & Kempenaers, B. 2021. Why do nestling birds fledge early in the day? Animal Behaviour, 174, 79–86. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.anbehav.2021.01.026