Do Birds Move Their Babies? A Look At Avian Parenting

As spring arrives, we excitedly welcome the new broods of baby birds that join the world. It’s common to see proud avian parents feeding and caring for their hatchlings. But do parent birds ever physically move their babies around, and if so, why?

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Most birds do actively move their chicks between nests or to safer locations if needed for survival. However, they move babies differently than mammals.

In this in-depth article, we’ll explore the parenting habits of various bird species to understand if and how they transport their young. We’ll look at how birds pick up and carry chicks, how the process differs from mammals, reasons parents need to move babies, and more.

Whether you’ve found a grounded baby bird or are just curious about avian family dynamics, read on to learn all about birds moving their babies!

How Birds Physically Move Chicks

When it comes to moving their chicks, birds have developed various methods to ensure the safety and well-being of their offspring. Using their remarkable adaptations and instincts, they employ different techniques depending on the species and the distance they need to cover.

Using Feet and Beaks

Many bird species use their feet and beaks to physically move their chicks from one place to another. This is especially common in ground-nesting birds such as plovers and sandpipers. The adult bird may gently grasp the chick’s body with its beak or use its feet to carry them to a safer location.

This method allows for close contact and protection, ensuring that the chicks are not left vulnerable to predators.

Short Distances vs Long Journeys

The way birds move their chicks can also vary depending on the distance they need to travel. For short distances within their nesting territory, some bird species encourage their chicks to walk or hop alongside them.

This helps the chicks build their strength and develop the necessary skills to navigate their surroundings.

However, when it comes to long journeys, birds often resort to carrying their chicks. This is particularly evident in species like raptors and waterfowl. These birds have strong talons or webbed feet that allow them to carry their young securely during flights or swimming activities.

This method ensures that the chicks are protected during potentially dangerous or strenuous journeys.

Carrying Methods by Species

Each bird species has its own unique way of physically moving their chicks. For example, pelicans have an expandable throat pouch that they use to carry their chicks. The chicks can safely nestle inside the pouch, protected from the elements and potential threats.

Similarly, many songbirds, such as sparrows and finches, use their beaks to transport small chicks from one branch to another.

Other bird species, like penguins, have evolved specialized brood patches on their feet. These brood patches provide warmth and protection to the chicks, allowing the adults to carry them safely without compromising their own mobility.

Penguins often shuffle their chicks between the brood patches on their feet, ensuring each chick receives sufficient care and warmth.

It’s important to note that the physical movement of chicks by birds is a natural and instinctive behavior. It allows the parents to ensure the survival of their offspring by providing them with protection and guidance as they grow and develop.

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Reasons for Moving Young

Avian parenting involves various strategies to ensure the survival and well-being of their offspring. One such strategy is moving their young to different locations. There are several reasons why birds engage in this behavior:

Transferring Between Nests

Some bird species, such as ducks and swans, transfer their young between nests. This behavior is primarily observed in species that build multiple nests in close proximity. The purpose of transferring young between nests is to distribute the parental workload and reduce the risk of predation.

By moving their babies, the parents can divide their attention and resources more efficiently, increasing the chances of survival for all their offspring.

Escaping Predators/Threats

Birds are highly protective of their young and will go to great lengths to keep them safe. Moving their babies to different locations can help them escape predators or other threats. For example, if a predator discovers the location of a nest, the parent bird may relocate their young to a safer area where they are less likely to be found or attacked.

By constantly moving their babies, birds can minimize the risk of predation and increase their chances of raising a successful brood.

Following Food Sources

In some cases, birds may move their young to follow food sources. This behavior is particularly common in migratory bird species. As the seasons change and food availability varies, parent birds may relocate their babies to areas with abundant food resources.

By doing so, they ensure that their young have access to a sufficient food supply, which is crucial for their growth and development.

According to a study conducted by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, some bird species exhibit remarkable navigational abilities and can accurately relocate their young even over long distances.

Parenting Differences vs Mammals

When it comes to parenting, birds have their own unique strategies that differ from mammals in several ways. Understanding these differences can give us a deeper appreciation for the diverse world of avian parenting.

Body Structure Limitations

One of the main reasons for the differences in avian and mammalian parenting lies in their distinct body structures. Unlike mammals, birds have lightweight bodies that are adapted for flight. This means that they have limited physical capacity to carry their babies for extended periods.

Instead of physically carrying their young, birds have developed alternative methods to ensure their offspring’s safety and well-being.

For example, some bird species construct elaborate nests to protect their eggs and hatchlings. These nests are often hidden from predators and provide a safe environment for the growing chicks. In other cases, birds may rely on natural structures such as tree cavities or burrows to shelter their young.

Self-Sufficient Babies

Another notable difference between avian and mammalian parenting is the level of independence exhibited by bird offspring. Unlike many mammal babies, which are often helpless and dependent on their parents for survival, young birds are usually born with a higher level of self-sufficiency.

From the moment they hatch, bird chicks are typically able to feed themselves, albeit with some guidance from their parents. They are also capable of leaving the nest and exploring their surroundings at a relatively early age.

This independence is crucial for their survival, as it allows them to develop essential skills and adapt to their environment.

Brood Size and Offspring Care

The size of broods, or the number of offspring a bird produces at a time, also plays a role in avian parenting differences. While mammals tend to have smaller litters, birds often have larger broods. This means that bird parents need to divide their attention and resources among multiple offspring.

To ensure the survival of their brood, bird parents employ different strategies. Some species, such as pigeons and doves, take turns incubating the eggs and feeding the chicks, allowing each parent to rest and recharge.

In contrast, other bird species, like penguins, exhibit communal parenting, where multiple adults collectively care for the young.

It’s important to note that these are general observations and there are exceptions within both bird and mammal species. The diversity of parenting strategies in the animal kingdom is truly fascinating and showcases the remarkable adaptability of different species.

Notable Examples of Avian Parents Moving Babies

Geese and Ducks

Geese and ducks are known for their remarkable parenting skills. These waterfowls often move their babies, known as goslings and ducklings, to safer locations. One of the most fascinating aspects of their parenting behavior is how they lead their young ones in a single-file formation, with the parents taking turns leading the way.

This not only helps protect the vulnerable babies from predators but also teaches them important survival skills.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the University of Oxford, geese and ducks exhibit a highly coordinated movement pattern when moving their babies. The study found that the parents communicate with their young ones through a series of vocalizations and head movements, guiding them to the desired location.

This remarkable level of communication and coordination between parents and babies showcases the intelligence and adaptability of these birds.

Chicken and Quail

While geese and ducks are known for their collective movement, chicken and quail have their own unique way of moving their babies. These ground-dwelling birds often lead their chicks on foot, using their wings to guide and protect them.

It’s a heartwarming sight to see a mother hen or quail leading her fluffy brood, clucking softly to keep them close.

Interestingly, chicken and quail have a strong instinct to keep their chicks close to them. They use vocal calls and body movements to signal their young ones to follow. This behavior helps the chicks learn from their parents and develop important skills, such as foraging and avoiding predators.

In fact, studies have shown that chicks raised by their parents have a higher survival rate compared to those raised without parental guidance.


Eagles, known for their majestic presence and impressive wingspan, also exhibit remarkable parenting behavior. These birds of prey are known to build large nests, called eyries, where they raise their young. However, as the eaglets grow, the nest can become overcrowded and potentially dangerous.

To ensure the safety and well-being of their offspring, eagle parents take the bold step of moving their babies to new nests. This involves carefully carrying the eaglets in their talons and flying them to a different location.

The parents meticulously choose a new nest that provides a safer environment and enough space for the growing eaglets.

According to the National Eagle Center, eagle parents start this “moving day” process when the eaglets are around 8 to 10 weeks old. The parents coax them to the edge of the nest and encourage them to take their first flight.

This is a crucial moment in the eaglets’ lives, as it marks the beginning of their independent journey.


The devotion of bird parents to ensuring their chicks survival, even if that means physically moving them long distances, is remarkable. While constraints like a lack of arms limits birds’ transportation of babies compared to mammals, they have adapted specialized techniques like carrying chicks on their backs or clutching them in talons or bills.

Understanding how birds move their young gives us a deeper appreciation of the lengths parents go to protect their offspring.

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