What is a Fledgling? See How a Baby Bird Grows Up

Find out what the five common bird life stages mean and see how robins and other baby birds look as fledglings, nestlings and more,

What’s the Correct Term for Baby Birds?

According to birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman, it’s fine just to call them babies, chicks or youngsters. To be more specific, a young bird that has just hatched out of the egg is a hatchling, one that’s still in the nest is a nestling and a young bird that has left the nest is known as a fledgling. Here’s a complete breakdown of the stages of a baby bird’s life.

Psst—This is the only bird nesting material you should put out.

Hatchling robins in a nestCOURTESY SCOTT MILROY
American robin hatchlings


A hatching is a baby bird after it hatches from an egg. It usually does not have feathers and its eyes are closed. However, some baby birds are born with feathers. Here’s what you should do if you find a bird nest.

Nestling robin in a nestCOURTESY DIANE BASETTE
American robin nestling


A nestling is a bird developing in the nest. This bird is not yet ready to leave the comfort of the nest, cannot fly and needs to be fed by mom or dad. (Learn more about what baby birds eat.) Check out super cute photos of baby birds.

American robin fledgling

Fledgling or Juvenile

A fledgling is a bird in its first coat of feathers that is capable of moving about on its own. Its feet can grip a branch and it has developed feathers. At this stage, a bird will venture out of the nest and start to learn how to survive without its parents. It has not reached full adult plumage, and the feathers are likely to be loose and soft. A bird in this stage often looks notably different from an adult. No need to be alarmed if you find a bird like this out of the nest—its parents are likely nearby. Psst—this is what a baby hummingbird looks like.

American robin juvenileWILLIAM LEAMAN
American robin juvenile


The term subadult describes a bird whose plumage is no longer juvenile but not quite adult. It starts to look less like a baby bird at this stage. Learn all about robin nests and robin eggs.


Any bird that isn’t an adult yet, including those with juvenile or subadult plumages, can be called immature. The term is commonly used to reference large birds like bald eagles and some gulls that don’t achieve full adult plumage until they are 4 or 5 years old.

Are There Different Kinds of Baby Birds?

Definitely! Scientists divide baby birds into two broad types. The first, altricial young, such as those of most songbirds and hummingbirds, hatch naked and with their eyes closed. Scrawny, pink and helpless, they can barely raise their heads at first. The other type, precocial young, such as those of ducks and chickens, are covered with down when they hatch. As soon as they dry off, often within a couple of hours, they are alert, active, and able to get up and walk around.

Next, learn how long baby birds stay in the nest.

Julie Kuczynski
Julie has edited and written content for books, magazines and digital mediums for many years. She loves birdwatching and keeps a bird life list.