How do bird parents decide which baby to feed first

How Do Mother Birds Feed Their Babies? Birds Advice Guide

Mother birds always love their babies unconditionally. They spend a lot of time to take care of their babies and keep them safe as much as possible. Also, they don’t discriminate to their babies in terms of feeding them.

Then there is a question among bird lovers. How do mother birds feed their babies? The answer is that most mother birds eat food and then regurgitate it for the babies. They often feed their babies insects so that they can get more protein and grow healthy.

And that’s why we will provide you some necessary information so that you will be able to know how mother birds feed their babies. This writing is also our loving dedication to our beautiful feathered friends.

Handy Hint: To read more about birds food, visit our other article about What To Feed A Baby Bird Without Feathers? [here..], What Birds Eat Black Oil Sunflower Seeds? [here] and How To Feed Wild Birds? [here. .]

How Do Mother Birds Feed Their Babies?

Baby birds always depend on their parents to eat food. In this case, a mother bird usually digests the food and then puts that food into the babies’ mouth. The babies always open their mouth wide and screech for the food when they are hungry.

However, the feeding method may be different, depending on the species. But every time the baby bird, which screeches louder, usually gets more food than others.

If the baby bird gapes its mouth strongly, then the parent can feed it easily, and the baby will be able to swallow much larger items.

How Do Mother Birds Ensure Which One Needs More Food?

Sometimes each baby bird doesn’t get an equal amount of food. Perhaps it may be sick or is unable to show the parent that it needs food.

In most cases, the other siblings are bigger and stronger. They can shove their other nestmates to get the food.

You may find various species of birds that have a variety of behaviors and sibling competition. So, it is tough to be sure entirely about birds.

Indeed, the mother bird has enough memory to know which one has immediately got food or even, which has not got the food for a while.

Besides, the one which is hungrier screech louder, and the mother usually put the food into the loudest screecher’s mouth.

Again, mother birds observe their babies well. The one which is swallowing silently, putting the food in the gullet, doesn’t get food in that particular time.

Most Mother Birds Provide Protein-Laden Food

Every mother bird usually feeds their babies many different things depending on their species.

Some perching birds like sparrows and finches eat seeds, nuts, and berries. But they feed their young babies insects because young birds need more protein than are found in the adult’s diet.

Songbirds often feed their babies almost 4 to 12 times an hour. They mostly provide the baby birds protein-laden insects and worms to make sure that they will be healthy.

Some Mother Birds Changes Food Habit

Some parent birds that usually eat seeds, such as finches, cardinals, and sparrows, switch to insects during the breeding season.

Generally, the mothers eat the smaller insects themselves and take the larger ones back to the nest for the babies. So, they can carry more food to their ever-hungry offsprings.

Before feeding the babies, the parents hit the insect against the tree-branch or the ground. They kill the insect and soften the hard shell.

Sometimes, the parents chew the insect, and then break up the exoskeleton to make it edible for the baby birds.

Some Mother Birds Feed Substantial Milk to Their Babies

Some birds produce a substance similar to mammal milk. Pigeons are the best-known producers of crop milk, and both sexes produce it.

Crop milk produced by sloughing of special cells in the crop is very nutritious. Even pigeon milk has more fat and protein than that of cow or human.

For the first few days after hatching, crop milk is the only food that the mother bird provides to the baby birds.

Both parents feed crop milk for a couple of weeks. As the babies get older, it gets seeds with the milk. When they are gradually getting older, they get more seed rather than less milk.

Some Mother Birds Feed Their Babies Differently

Some parents, such as pigeons and doves, feed their babies by using different styles and techniques. They usually squeak and tap their beak against the baby birds’ beak to feed the food. The babies stick their beak down the parent’s throat and suck up to food of the crop.

Most of the songbirds do not have an actual crop, which is essentially a sack capable of holding a large amount of food. The baby birds which don’t have a crop can only hold a small amount of food at a time. They must be fed almost every 20 minutes from sunrise to sunset.

On the other hand, pigeons and doves can hold a large amount of food, which passes slowly through the digestive system. Even the youngest baby pigeon or dove can be fed no more than every couple of hours.

Some Mother Birds Feed Their Babies at Night

Most birds sleep and rest at night. But, some birds specialize at the nocturnal activities. Nocturnal birds are in the minority, but there are plenty of genus and species of nocturnal birds.

For example, most owls hunt at night and are inactive during the day. Also, nighthawks kill insects in flight at night.

Besides, some swifts kill airborne insects at night. Bitterns and night herons are nocturnal. But most night herons are not.

Final Words

Hopefully, you are now well-known of the term “How do mother birds feed their babies?” As the baby birds entirely depend on their mother, they actually eat whatever their mother usually feeds.

When the baby birds are born, they are not able to eat food by themselves, so their mother, sometimes father, digests the food to make it safe for them. Then the parent puts the food into the mouths of its babies.

However, some birds have multiple eggs, but the only one who is the strongest and gets more food will survive each brood. Then, the particular bird will be the example of ‘survival of the fittest.’ 

How do bird parents decide who to feed first? – Bond with your bird

The reproduction process is one of the most taxing procedures in both humans and birds. Post the process, feeding the offspring is tougher. The pressure on birds to feed their offspring is more as they have a larger clutch size. 

Bird parents decide who to feed first mostly based on natural instinct or love for a young offspring. The food is mostly provided open to all by the parent and the fittest may get the first bite. Based on experiments, adult female birds were giving preference in feeding the UV-reflecting offspring.

The answer depends on the type of scenario that the offspring are being raised in. 

  • Scenario 1- Nestlings hatch on a young spring morning in an urban household garden with ample food around, in such a scenario, all the offspring get their share of food.  
  • Scenario 2- It’s the winter season and food is scarce, in this situation the bird parents have to choose which offspring to feed and they choose the strongest offspring that has the largest chances to survive and carry the genes ahead, thus the weaker ones are left behind. 

Each baby bird in the nest does not get an equal amount of food. To get fed, they evolve different signals like begging behavior, vocalizations, and open mouths. Yet, how parents react to this information varies from species to species. For example, Tree swallows feed the chick begging the most unlike the blue-footed booby ignores the begging̣. 

5 major ways in which bird parents decide who to feed first
  • Sibling Rivalry- In a nest full of chicks that are begging for food; bigger and stronger chicks push the weaker siblings off the nest in competition for food. The stronger chick also shrieks the loudest which is also why they are fed and that’s how they become strong in the first place, it’s a cycle that repeats.
  • Availability of resources- While feeding, birds shift to insects as they are richer in proteins. According to research, the availability of food is the biggest determinant of which offspring is to be fed. If resources are available the distribution is equal but in uncertain surroundings, the emphasis lies on strength, and the chick with structured signals is fed. Parents also tend to react less to begging in case of food unavailability because everyone is hungry.
  • Survival of the fittest – As mentioned earlier, the cycle of getting fed simply depends on the “survival of the fittest” rule. The stronger the chick, the louder shrieking cry for food which gets them fed more. Additionally, if parents had to choose, they go with the strongest chick that has the largest chance of survival. 
  • Parental Instinct- Adult birds that feed have a strong memory that reminds them which offspring was fed when and who’s been starving the longest. You can call this a parental instinct or a strong memory but the parents know everything!
  • Natural Factors- Environmental predictability determines the clutch size. Birds only produce the number which they will be able to feed and survive. 

According to a new study, researchers have come across a unique method through which bird parents decide which offspring to feed. 

Ultraviolet reflectance in young birds is also a form of communication that helps the parent decide which offspring to feed. In an experiment conducted, adult female birds were giving preference to UV- reflecting offspring but male birds had no preference. This shows the importance of Ultraviolet reflectance in bird communication patterns. 

Researchers have studied these patterns in two species of migratory birds. Alpine Swift and European Starling communicate by modifying their UV (ultraviolet) signal.

  • UV light reflected by the body skin of an offspring is proportional to the physiological differences of siblings in a brood.  
  • Parental bias increases as the season progress.

Another observation that came out of the experiment. Initially in the breeding season parent bird prefer less reflective body skin (UV pale – that is small stature) but in the latter part as conditions deteriorate parents get biased toward an offspring which have more reflective skin (UV bright – that is large body mass and skeletal size ) 

More complex and intricate signals which parents look for in their offspring other than their begging calls and size are:

  • Begging amplitude 
  • Latency 
  • Duration between feeding
  • Likelihood 
  • Call structure 
  • Posture 
  • Carotenoid saturation of gape or flange 
  • Specialized feathers and skin patches 

How do baby birds let their parents know they are hungry? 

Nestlings are demanding, hungry, and need to be fed constantly. There are subtle signs in their behavior from which a parent can tell when their nestlings need to be fed. These signs vary from species to species but include – making noises, shaking, opening their mouths wide open for the food. Small birdies continue with their sleep between meals when they are not hungry. They are usually fed insects by adult birds for high protein. Adult birds kill the insect and make the food soft and moist to feed. 

When a chick is starving it has a specific call voice through which a parent knows the intensity of hunger and how long the nestling has been hungry for. 

Research by German and Swiss ornithologists have shown that parent birds can hear the changes in calls of their offsprings. Kenyan researchers have discovered that birds can change their calls. As their stomach rumbles their call frequencies change which indicates the intensity of hunger.

What do birds feed their baby birds?

Different ways parent birds feed their baby birds are as below.

  • Protein-rich diet– Young ones need protein-laden food to grow. Insects and worms do the task for birds.
  • Some birds feed milk– Birds produce crop milk which is like mammal milk. It gets produced by sloughing of special cells. Pigeon milk is the best in crop milk, both sexes produce it.
  • Nocturnal birds– Nocturnal birds like owls and nighthawks hunt insects at night and feed their children. 

Communication between the offspring and parent birds make for an interesting read. Researchers continue to dig deeper and understand more about the same. We have already discussed the feeding practices of birds in different environmental contexts. Abundant food leads to fewer conflicts in nestlings. Whereas in uncertain surroundings parents respond to quality rather than need.

90,000 haircuts

Category: birds

Black haircut on the nest

These birds seem to know. In summer, they rush through the air with loud cries, reminiscent of a screech. Swifts can be seen both in cities and outside cities. People are used to swifts, do not pay attention to them and often do not suspect that they see very unusual birds.
Swifts - there are 69 of them in the familyspecies - similar to swallows. But, looking closer, you can easily distinguish them by narrower wings, less maneuverable flight and, of course, speed. Some species of swifts are considered champions among birds in terms of flight speed. (The needle-tailed one develops a speed of up to 170 kilometers, while the fastest swallow makes no more than 70 kilometers per hour.) And among other things, swifts are “children of the air”. Other birds can fly and swim, walk and run on the ground. Swifts can only fly - they cannot walk or swim. On the fly, swifts drink and bathe.
In the guise of swifts, the idea of ​​flight, which gave rise to the whole world of birds, was realized with purely academic perfection. Theoretical calculations convincingly indicate that with the appearance of swifts in the long history of the evolution of living aircraft, an end was put. It is impossible to fly better than a swift. For most birds, flight remained the hardest work, requiring the full mobilization of all body resources. For swifts, this is a normal state and a favorite pastime.
This is one feature of swifts. The other is sudden and significant fluctuations in body temperature. Of course, swifts are warm-blooded animals, there is no doubt about that. But the temperature of their body, to a greater extent than that of other birds, depends on the temperature of the environment. Moreover, if the temperature drops too low, the swifts hide in the nest and, as it were, fall into hibernation, stupor.
We are used to seeing swifts in cities. Many even believe that this is a purely urban bird. But swifts can be found in the mountains, and in forests, and in deserts, and on the plains. Nests are made in crevices of rocks or in hollows of trees; they can settle in caves and even in burrows.
Swifts' legs are small, weak, with sharp claws. These birds practically cannot walk on the ground, they can only perch on branches or cling to vertical surfaces with their claws. The swift cannot take off from the ground - the wings hit the ground when flapping. (The black swifts are an exception - they can jump up and take off.) Others, in order to rise into the air, need some kind of springboard, some kind of elevation. Therefore, swifts do everything they need in the air: they catch insects, look for building materials and bedding (fluff, dry blades of grass raised by the wind, and so on).
There is another curious pattern, which was noticed back in 1855 by K. F. Kessler: almost always early arriving birds fly away late in autumn, and those arriving late in spring fly away early, one of the first. For example, swifts arrive with the fourth bird echelon, and are among the first to fly away - in August. By the way, this phenomenon was inexplicable for a long time: swifts catch insects in the air, like swallows. It turns out that the whole thing is in vision, or, more precisely, in the structure of the eyes: swallows can see insects flying around and chase them. Swifts do not chase insects - they almost do not see them. They fly with their mouths open and, like a net, capture those they come across on the way. There's a lot of randomness here. And if there are many insects, this percentage is large enough to saturate both adult birds and chicks in the nest. And when there are few insects, then the percentage decreases.
The example of a swift is quite convincing. And the amount of food determines the timing of the arrival and departure of birds. In the middle of the 19th century, the German scientist A. Altum defined these phenological relationships as follows: "Not a single bird returns before its food appears."
The most widespread and famous in Europe, Asia, Africa is the black swift. Black swifts live mainly in cities. Black swifts build nests from blades of grass, feathers, leaves, which they collect in the air, on the fly.
Black swift clutch contains 2-4 white eggs. Only females incubate it for 18 days. The males feed the hens, who usually stay in a flock: they fly away together for food for the females, return together with the prey (they pick up a mouthful of food, envelop it with saliva, and then carry this lump to the children).
Black Swifts often nest in large colonies, with each pair returning year after year to their nest. The young leave the colonies and usually begin their first nesting in a completely different place.
In bad weather, the chicks fall into a stupor, their body temperature drops to 20 ° (almost twice as compared to normal!), And in this state they can be without food for up to 10-12 days. At this time, adult swifts migrate south for tens of kilometers, leaving children without food.
Spiny-tailed swifts live in sparse, often swampy forests along river valleys, on plains and along mountain slopes, clearings and burnt areas with preserved individual trees. They nest in hollows, often very large: up to three to four meters and with a diameter of 35-50 cm.

Thorny haircut (young)

in southeast Asia, in the south-east Asia Salangana swifts live on the islands of Indonesia and Polynesia. These birds nest in cave colonies, often in complete darkness. In caves, they use echolocation, i.e. emit special sounds, and by their reflection from the walls they are oriented in space. However, only those birds that live in caves are capable of echolocation. Those nesting openly do not possess these abilities.
All Salangans (and there are about 20 species of them) make their nests from saliva, including pieces of plants, bark, lichens. These nests are valued, but much less than the nests of the gray salangana - this swift has a clean nest, because the bird makes it exclusively from saliva. Cup-shaped nests glued to a vertical rock, usually in the depths of caves.
These are the same "swallow's nests" from which Chinese chefs cook soup highly valued by gourmets. They say that the soup is really excellent, and the nest itself tastes like sturgeon caviar. However, many do not like this dish - a matter of taste, of course.
In the east of our country and in some other countries, the bulk of the “urban” are white-belted swifts. They are similar both externally and in lifestyle. Those and others, having arrived, immediately begin to build nests. Build a week, a little more. And as soon as the nest is ready, they lay eggs. There are usually two of them. Both parents incubate. The incubation lasts eleven days, but maybe longer - it all depends on the weather. Moreover, it depends on the weather whether swifts will incubate eggs at all, whether chicks will appear at all. We have already said that these birds are very dependent on the weather. During bad weather, there are no insects in the air - the birds are starving, they may even die of starvation. To prevent this from happening, during a long bad weather, the birds hibernate. Or sitting in a nest. But their body temperature at this time becomes so low that there is not enough heat necessary for incubation. And swifts throw eggs out of the nest. As if they know that nothing will come of it.
But if everything goes well, the chicks will appear. And they will sit in the nest. But how much - again depends on the weather. They can spend 33 days in the nest, or they can spend 55.
On good days, parents fly to the nest 30-40 times a day, each time bringing a "bag" of food. Since a bird cannot fly with each insect caught, then. she "hoards" them, packs them - wraps them in sticky saliva - and brings them to the chicks. In such a "bag" from 400 to 1500 insects. It is estimated that chicks eat up to 40,000 insects on average per day. But that's on good days.
In rainy weather, there won't be hundreds. And parents go to those places where the weather is good, where there is food. Sometimes 60-70 kilometers from the nest. (These are the so-called "weather migrations".) And the chicks cannot fly yet. Parents cannot return with food either. And the shearers “found a way out” - they become numb, as if falling asleep and not wanting to eat. In this state, they can starve for 10 or even 12 days.
But then the good weather comes again, the parents return, the children wake up, and everything goes on as before. Chicks gain weight quickly - on the twentieth day they become almost one and a half times heavier than their parents, then they lose weight, and by the time of departure their weight becomes optimal. And in general, by the time of departure from the nest, the swifts are already quite independent. Having left the nest, they also leave their parents - they no longer need them.
Swifts have another amazing feature - they can sleep in the air! And not for several minutes, but for several hours, gliding high in the sky, occasionally moving its wings in a dream. In the morning they wake up and go about their usual business - they begin to catch insects.
In our country there are still white-bellied and small (in Central Asia) and needle-tailed (in the Far East and Siberia).
And the cayenne swift lives in America. It is interesting for its nest. Having caught a sufficient amount of vegetable fluff in the air, the bird sticks it together with saliva and makes a rather long tube out of this material. Having hung it on a bough, the swift glues a pocket on one side of the tube, in its upper part. This is a nesting chamber.
The nest of the palm swift, widespread in the tropical zone of Asia and Africa, is even more original. However, this structure can be called a nest with some stretch. It is rather a small pillow glued together from fluff and small feathers and attached to the underside of a palm leaf. Eggs will not lie on such a pillow, and the bird will not sit, especially since the palm leaf hangs almost vertically. Therefore, the swift glues the eggs. And he sits on them, firmly clinging to the pillow with his claws. So he sits until the chicks appear. And the kids, barely born, cling to the pillow with their claws and sit like that until they grow up.
If we talk about the nests of swifts, then we can’t help but recall the kleho, a representative of another family of the order - the family of Crested swifts.
They are really crested, but otherwise they are similar to all swifts. Unless sometimes, unlike them, they sit on trees. Crested swifts also build nests in trees, and these are the smallest bird nests in the world (corresponding, of course, to the size of the bird). Swifts make nests on thin bare twigs and lay one single egg in them. Will not fit anymore! It is impossible to incubate in such a nest. Therefore, the female does not sit on the nest, but sits nearby and covers the egg with abdominal feathers. The chick sits in the nest for some time, but soon it becomes crowded there, and it moves to the branch. So he sits on it until he grows up.

Black haircut

Red -tailed scum

Author: Irina Karpukhina

Photo: Alain Laboile

9000 9000 9000. The children played enough, worked up an appetite and, tired and satisfied, came home. As I got out of the car, I noticed that someone was moving under the wall of the house.

We live on the second floor, some chicks, like sparrows, have recently hatched under our balcony, their squeak does not stop from early morning until late evening, and I immediately saw a tiny motley chick right on the pavement, on the roadway.

In addition to the chicks, kittens were born in the basement of a homeless wild cat, which we feed but cannot tame. Mother cat was already teaching them to hunt with might and main. Her eyes sparkled from the nearest basement window and it was immediately clear that the chick would live at most for a couple more minutes. Natural selection has not yet been canceled. Except my children - Dinky and Vasya.

Dinka picked up the baby in her hand, put it in a cap, Vasya, chattering, rushed after her, Lenik murmured: “Pika-pika”, and the chick ended up at our house. I immediately got into the Internet, looking for information - who is, what to feed, what are the prospects for the life of a chick. Looking at the bird, I decided that it was a sparrow.

Vasya has his own opinion on everything, he said that the name of the birds is “red-tailed balconies”.
And he substantiated: “Birds with red tails and a white spot on their heads live under our balcony. I see them every day. And our cat is watching them. These are definitely not sparrows, I know sparrows. These are red-tailed balconies. Exactly! That's what I'm telling you!"

I went to look out of the window for the "underbalconies" - and, for sure, I saw funny little birds that scurried into the gap of the balcony with worm-flies in their beaks. I typed the description into a search engine and realized who we brought home. It turned out to be a redstart chick. I started reading. And the enthusiasm gradually changed to panic.

Redstarts feed on various insects and spiders they find on the ground, on tree trunks, branches and leaves. Occasionally, birds catch insects in the air, looking for prey from an ambush.

Redstart is not in a hurry to eat the caught prey - first she takes it to a safe place. Small chicks are able to swallow only crushed food, so adult birds first crush the caught insects and only then give them to the chicks.

Voracious chicks often bring their parents to complete physical exhaustion, because the birds fly to the nest up to 500 times a day, each time bringing food to the chicks in their beak.

Then I read that you can feed the chicks with ant eggs, this is an ideal option, feed every 15-20 minutes, drink water from a pipette, warm, organize a nest and still be happy owners of the Siberian redstart for 10-12 years, because . in the wild, a bred chick will no longer be able to live. In addition, the bird is migratory, insectivorous and yells loudly. Well, I mean, singing.

I began to solve problems as they came. The chick opened its beak and bawled. Hungry. It's clear. Ant eggs - approx. There is an anthill behind the house. Vasya sometimes brings candy to the ants and last year he asked us to take a few ants to our house: “They are so pretty!” She barely dissuaded me ... And now I have to destroy the anthill and feed the chick. She went to work, taking a jar and a scoop. I, as a great lover of all living things, knew very well that in the heat, ants drag eggs closer to the center of the anthill. As carefully as possible, she raked these same eggs into the jar, digging a little on one side. Ants crawled up my legs, I shamefully left the battlefield and galloped home to feed the bird. On the way I met a neighbor, she gave me a suspicious look, looked at the bank and asked what it was and why. I must have looked stupid when I said that there were ants in the jar for a redstart chick ... Well, that is, underbalconies.

After stuffing some eggs into the beak of the insatiable pet, I sat down to read on. “Chicks eat insects more than their own weight in a day. ” I didn't want to poke around in the anthill anymore. Dinka flatly refused even to come close to the ants. Feeding every 20 minutes is also something expensive. It is to carry it with you to work…

Another 20 minutes have passed. The squeak resumed with renewed vigor. The ant eggs were running out inexorably. Finally, night came. The chick got warm and fell asleep. Everyone fell asleep. Exactly at 4 in the morning there was a heartbreaking orb of a poor hungry bird. And up to 9.00 I diligently managed to feed the chick, Lyonya, Dina, the cat, and my husband fed me and soldered coffee to me. Torn from the responsibility that fell on me, I was late for work.

My husband is a practical and balanced person. He doesn't like fuss. He realized that the chick would radically change his life and soon he would be sent to dig in the anthill. He read that the redstart's parental instinct is extremely strong, and our cat's hunting instinct is strong and suggested returning the chick to the nest. We did not have ladders up to the second floor. Having searched the balcony, having determined by the squeak where the nest was, we unbent the board in the floor, and soon the chick was at home. I counted three chicks, but judging by the squeak, there are more of them. Ours turned out to be the largest and almost fledged. That's probably why he got out in the first place. In another week they will be able to fly, and then the chicks will not be afraid of cats and cars, and their parents will feed them already somewhere in the bushes.

Through the window in the kitchen, I was able, almost falling out, to see the nest under the balcony paneling and our chick. His parents fed him, like the rest, every minute bringing in their beak either a grasshopper or a butterfly. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Vasya in the garden surprised the teachers with an extensive report about the life of "red-tailed under-balconies". I'm going to bed early today. It's good that we don't need any more ant eggs.

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