All animals, humans included, are born with a natural set of instincts that help keep them safe and healthy. Birds are born with the innate ability to fly; the only limitation on this skill is the time it takes the bird to reach an appropriate flying age. Once a young bird is ready to leave the nest, he will leap into the abyss and let his instincts take over.
Baby Birds and Flight
Newly hatched birds are incapable of flight. They are born with their eyes closed and without feathers. The next few days are a critical time in a young bird’s life, as they are especially vulnerable to predators or accidental falls from the nest. Only 30 percent of young songbirds make it past one year of age. If they are pushed from the nest too early, they will be easy pickings for cats, dogs or any other predatory animal in the area.
Maturation of Songbirds
Every bird species has its own unique path of maturation, but most common songbirds follow a similar path and timeframe. The eyes open within the first three days, feathers start to come through at four days, and primary feathers flourish at seven. By the two-week mark, most birds can flutter their wings as they hop from branch to branch, but their wings and tails are not fully developed. Full flight is still not an option.
Learning to Fly
Birds must learn to fly, in the same way a human must learn to walk. The learning process is tough and often painful, as the bird will take numerous falls from its nest as it works out the finer points of navigating in the air. While most songbirds can fly by within two to four weeks of life, long flights and total mastery do not come for a few more weeks.
Support from the Community
Birds that are having trouble learning to fly are not abandoned by their mothers or other birds. Instead, if a bird has yet to master the mechanics of flight, other birds will fly to the ground and give it food, or attempt to protect it if a predator encroaches on the practice zone. If you find a bird on the ground and it has feathers and is capable of hopping around, it should be left alone as the other birds will continue to teach it. If you own cats, keep them inside while the new birds learn to fly -- it is estimated that cats kill 39 million baby birds a year.
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