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Eastern Phoebe: question re: fledgling birds' first flight from nest

8 years ago

We have a phoebe nest under a screened porch eve, just outside my home office door (that opens onto a patio). I have been able to watch the phoebe nesting pair raise their brood, from my office chair. The 4 babies have hatched, and have grown quite large over a 2-week period. They barely could fit into the nest. They were obviously getting ready to take flight any day. They were flapping their wings, preening, etc. The parents were still feeding them, but had cut down considerably on the frequency of feeding. It seemed like the parents were trying to get them to leave the nest -- but, I don't know if this is accurate. The frequency of feeding the babies was cut down drastically. An adult would visit the nest and stay perched on the edge of the nest for minutes at a time (instead of feeding a baby and then flying away immediately). The adults were hanging around the nest area, closer than before, and just sort of hanging out instead of getting food for the brood. I saw one adult flutter in front of the nest (like a humming bird) for a few seconds (facing the nest) -- a behavior I hadn't seen before. But, the babies remained in the nest.

Here is my dillemma/questions: I opened my office door to go out to the lawnmower. (When I previously had gone out the door, the babies were quite young and couldn't even be seen. Now, they are so big that they are overflowing the nest. ) I thought they would simply stay put when I opened the door and walked outside. But, instead, all 4 baby birds took flight out of the nest and into the surrounding trees (so far as I could tell). They obviously could fly-- and this was their first flight. Was this a mistake to (presumably) startle them? Are they going to be ok and independent of the parents? Will the parents still take care of them? Is the startle response perhaps the thing that gets baby birds to leave the nest? Or, would they naturally leave the nest without being startled? What is a "normal" way to leave the nest on a first flight?Will the parents round them up in a group and still feed them?

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