Can Birds Pick Up Their Babies?

Birds transporting their chicks is a common sight for any bird watcher. But can birds actually pick up their babies? If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Most bird species are capable of briefly picking up and carrying their chicks short distances when needed, though they typically prefer not to.

In this detailed guide, we’ll explore the realities behind birds lifting their babies. We’ll look at the physical capabilities of birds, reasons why they may need to transport chicks, limitations on what they can carry, and which species are most likely to pick up their young.

Birds Have the Physical Ability to Lift Chicks

Birds possess remarkable physical adaptations that enable them to lift and carry their chicks. Their beaks and feet are specifically designed to grasp and support the weight of their young offspring, allowing them to safely transport them from one location to another.

Beaks and Feet Allow for Grasping

One of the primary ways birds lift their babies is through the use of their beaks and feet. Many bird species have strong and dexterous beaks that can firmly hold onto their chicks without causing any harm. The shape and size of the beak may vary depending on the bird’s diet and lifestyle.

For example, birds of prey such as eagles and hawks have sharp, curved beaks that aid in capturing and carrying their young.

In addition to their beaks, birds also utilize their feet to lift and transport their chicks. Most bird species have feet with specialized talons or claws that provide a secure grip on their offspring. These feet are incredibly strong, allowing birds to carry chicks of various sizes and weights.

Hollow Bones Don’t Limit Strength

Contrary to popular belief, the fact that birds have hollow bones does not hinder their ability to lift their babies. While it’s true that bird bones are lightweight and contain air-filled cavities, they are also reinforced with a network of internal struts and fibers that provide strength and support.

This unique bone structure allows birds to maintain their overall strength and agility despite having lightweight bones.

Furthermore, the muscles in a bird’s body are well-developed and powerful, providing the necessary force to lift and carry their chicks. The combination of strong bones and muscles allows birds to overcome the challenges associated with their hollow bones and successfully lift their offspring.

Transporting Chicks Serves an Evolutionary Purpose

Birds have developed various strategies to ensure the survival of their offspring. One such strategy is the ability to transport their chicks to different locations. This behavior serves an important evolutionary purpose, allowing birds to protect their young, provide them with food, and ensure their overall well-being.

Moving Chicks to Safety

One of the main reasons birds transport their chicks is to keep them safe from predators. By moving their young to a different location, birds can reduce the risk of predation and increase the chances of their chicks reaching adulthood.

This behavior is particularly common in ground-nesting birds, such as plovers and sandpipers, who must protect their vulnerable chicks from potential threats.

For example, the American Avocet, a species of shorebird, uses a distraction display to lure predators away from their chicks. The adult avocet pretends to have a broken wing, fluttering and making loud noises to attract the predator’s attention.

Once the predator is away from the nest, the avocet quickly picks up its chick and carries it to a safer location.

Transporting to Food Sources

Transporting chicks also allows birds to bring their offspring to food sources. This behavior is commonly observed in birds that nest in trees or cliffs, such as raptors and woodpeckers. These birds often have to leave their nest to hunt for food, and by carrying their chicks with them, they ensure that their young ones have access to the necessary nutrients.

For instance, the Bald Eagle, a majestic bird of prey, will carry its chicks to nearby water bodies where it can find fish. By doing so, the adult eagle not only provides food for its offspring but also teaches them essential hunting skills.

This behavior helps the chicks develop their abilities and increases their chances of survival in the wild.

Carrying to New Nests

Some bird species, such as swans and grebes, transport their chicks to new nests. This behavior is often observed when the current nesting site becomes unsuitable or unsafe. By relocating their young ones to a different nest, birds ensure their survival by providing them with a more suitable environment.

For example, the Common Merganser, a diving duck species, commonly moves its chicks from the nest to nearby water bodies. The female merganser calls her chicks and leads them to the water, where they can find better protection and abundant food.

This behavior not only safeguards the chicks but also allows them to learn essential skills for their future survival.

Size and Other Factors Limit What Birds Can Carry

While some birds may be known for carrying objects in their beaks or talons, there are limitations to what they can pick up, especially when it comes to carrying their own babies. Factors such as chick size and weight, distance and duration, and species differences all play a role in determining what birds can carry.

Chick Size and Weight

One of the main factors that limit what birds can carry is the size and weight of their chicks. Most bird species have evolved to have a beak and talons that are suited to capturing and carrying prey of a certain size.

While a bird may be able to carry food items that weigh several times its own body weight, carrying a chick that is too large or heavy may simply be impossible. The size and weight of the chick must be within the bird’s physical capabilities.

Distance and Duration

Another factor that limits what birds can carry is the distance and duration of the journey. Carrying a chick for a short distance may be feasible for some bird species, but carrying it over long distances or for extended periods of time may be too taxing on the bird’s energy reserves.

Birds need to conserve their energy for other essential activities such as hunting, feeding themselves, and maintaining their own health.

Species Differences

Species differences also come into play when considering what birds can carry. Different bird species have adapted to different environments and lifestyles, which means they have different physical abilities and limitations.

For example, birds of prey such as eagles and hawks have strong talons and powerful flight muscles that allow them to carry relatively large prey items, including their own chicks. On the other hand, smaller songbirds may only be able to carry their chicks short distances.

Understanding the limitations that size, distance, duration, and species differences impose on birds can help us appreciate the incredible adaptations and behaviors that birds have developed. While birds may not be able to pick up their babies in the same way humans do, they have their own unique ways of caring for and protecting their offspring.

Certain Species Are Most Likely to Lift Chicks

While not all bird species have the ability to lift their chicks, certain species are more likely to exhibit this behavior. These species typically have specific adaptations that allow them to carry their young, ensuring their safety and survival.

Let’s take a closer look at some of these remarkable birds.


Seabirds, such as albatrosses and gulls, are known for their incredible ability to lift their chicks. These birds have strong wings and powerful flight muscles, which enable them to carry their offspring over long distances.

Seabirds often use this skill to transport their chicks from the nest to safer feeding grounds or to protect them from predators.

According to a study conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, some seabird species can lift chicks up to 50% of their own body weight. This remarkable feat showcases the strength and dedication of these birds as parents.

Birds of Prey

Birds of prey, such as eagles and hawks, are also known for their ability to lift their chicks. These mighty birds have powerful talons and strong beaks, which they use to carry their young. This behavior is often observed when the chicks are in danger or when it’s time to relocate to a new nesting site.

According to the National Audubon Society, bald eagles, for example, can lift chicks that weigh up to 50% of their own body weight. This impressive strength allows them to provide protection and care for their offspring, ensuring their survival in the wild.

Wading Birds

Wading birds, such as herons and storks, are another group of birds that can lift their chicks. These birds have long legs and necks, which make it easier for them to reach their young in nests located high up in trees or in other inaccessible locations.

A study conducted by the Royal Society revealed that some wading bird species can lift chicks that weigh up to 25% of their own body weight. This ability allows them to carefully transport their young to safer areas or to teach them how to forage for food.

It’s truly fascinating to witness the nurturing instincts and physical capabilities of these bird species. Their ability to lift their chicks showcases the incredible bond between parent and offspring, as well as the adaptability and survival strategies of different bird species.


While not all birds pick up their chicks, many species are physically capable of briefly lifting and transporting their babies short distances. This important parenting behavior helps protect and provide for vulnerable young birds.

Understanding which birds carry chicks and why offers fascinating insight into the family lives of our feathered friends.

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