Do you know the immatures?

Summer birding can be downright drab, depending on where you spend your time. Breeders have settled into their territories and are busy raising young while northbound migration has pretty much wrapped up. Soon these baby birds will have fledged and we will be seeing them out of the nest. Identifying these young birds can be extremely frustrating as they seem to show little to no resemblance of the adults.

David Allen Sibley, author of The Sibley Guide to Birds, also writes a column for Birder’s World titled ID Toolkit. His latest column focuses on identifying juvenal birds by focusing on wing and tail feathers and he has several good tips.

  1. Wait for an adult to come feed the young songbird. This can immediately solve the puzzle but this does not work so well if the baby songbird is a Brown-headed Cowbird.
  2. A fledgling songbird goes through a molt soon after fledging and replaces many of its head and body feathers. Before this molt, it looks very different from what young birds look like during fall migration. It keeps its wing and tail feathers for about 12 months and these feather regions are often very similar to the adults. Concentrating on the tail and wing feathers will often reveal the birds identity.

So go out and try this out. Quite a few states are working on Breeding Bird Atlases so any juveniles you find can be reported to the appropriate atlas projects below.

Pennsylvania 2004-08

Colorado 2007-11

Ohio 2006-10

Solano Co. (CA) 2004-2009

Yolo Co. (CA) 2009-13

Delaware 2008-12

Indiana 2005-10

Massachusetts 2007-11

New Mexico 2000-10