Around mid-June is when I start hearing from folks who say that some strange little birds that they can’t identify have shown up in their yard.
In nearly every case, however, I find that the “strangers” are full-feathered young songbirds that have recently fledged their nest but are still months away from donning the bright, bold feathers of adulthood. Their color patterns usually are blander, spottier and streakier than adult plumages, making them less noticeable to predators but difficult to identify.
Young Northern mockingbirds, for instance, have spotted breasts and are paler overall than adults, which have gray upper parts, dark wings and unblemished, whitish-gray chests. Immature American robins also are paler with heavily spotted breasts and whitish stripes on wings. Their parents sport brown-gray backs, dark heads and brick-red breasts.
June and July are prime times for songbird fledglings in Georgia. So it’s not uncommon to find young feathered birds in early summer that may bear little resemblance to their parents.
Some other characteristics of immature songbirds include:
• Attentive parents that continue to feed the youngster even though it has left its nest. The adults may continue to feed their offspring for a few weeks or longer (depending on the species); the young bird may cry and beg when the parents are near. Although a young bird may look abandoned, its parents are keeping an eye on it.
• A tail that usually is not at full length yet.
• Difficulty flying, such as trying to make smooth landings or takeoffs. If approached, the bird may seem reluctant to fly away.
• A bill that seems proportionally too large for its head.
As the bird grows, however, it becomes a juvenile: It will still have some fledgling markings but its flight feathers will be almost fully developed and it will be capable of full flight and feeding itself. From there, it will develop quickly into an adult — about nine months after it hatched.
IN THE SKY: From David Dundee, Tellus Science Museum astronomer: The moon is last quarter Saturday night (June 10). Mercury is very low in the east just before sunrise. Venus is high in the west just after sunset. Mars is in the southwest at dark. Jupiter rises in the east a few hours before dawn. Saturn rises in the east a few hours after midnight.
Charles Seabrook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.