The age at which birds fledge, or begin to fly, varies widely from species to species. Without knowing species, it is impossible to say how long it will take a bird to fly after hatching. Within species, the capability generally develops within a short window common to all young.
Fledglings are fluffy, without adult feathers but capable of doing more than nestlings, who have very weak grips and cannot do much other than sit in the nest. Fledglings can hop, walk, grip and make short flights. If you happen upon a juvenile bird hopping around, don't approach. The bird is likely under parental supervision. The parents may also be monitoring other young in the area. Don’t attempt to put a fledgling back in the nest: Once they leave, they usually do not return.
Usually young birds fledge within a matter of weeks. Western bluebirds, for example, fledge within 21 days, though they stay nearby for another two weeks before becoming fully independent. Eastern bluebirds, on the other hand, leave the nest after only 15 to 20 days, but they sometimes stick around to help parents raise another brood that same year. Kestrels take longer, usually beginning short flights 30 to 36 days after hatching.
Although some people erroneously think a fledgling is a fully trained flier, this is not the case. Fledglings are merely old enough to attempt flight; it usually takes them a bit of a practice period to become proficient. During this time, fledging birds will leave the nest but mostly stay within view of their nearby parents. Mothers will continue to feed their young for a few days after they have learned to fly to ensure the offspring receive enough food.
After they learn to fly, some fledglings stay together, traveling in family groups to warmer climes for winter. Western bluebirds, for example, travel together from summer to winter sites, then return in spring to the same breeding sites, using large kin groups as protection. Others, such as blackcap chickadees, scatter in the autumn, joining different groups from their siblings and parents. Even birds who imprint, such as mallards and grouse, do not show signs of recognizing family members after their first year.
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Sarah Moore has been a writer, editor and blogger since 2006. She holds a master's degree in journalism.