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Smithsonian, Teen Vogue: These teen birds love sleeping in, too

September 13, 2018 — 

As the Smithsonian and Teen Vogue report: 

We all know the early bird gets the worm, so why do these young endangered grassland songbirds hang out in their nests late into the day? A new study seeks to answer that question, and it could be that playing the waiting game is actually the best way for nesting siblings to get the most food before heading out on their own.

To some extent, teen birds are “kind of like [human] teenagers,” jokes Nicola Koper, a conservation biologist at the University of Manitoba in Canada and a co-author of the study published today in The Auk: Ornithological Advances. Rather than venturing out into the world to fend for themselves, hanging out in bed and chowing down on whatever food the adults bring home may be the most effective way to survive for adolescent humans as well as grassland birds.

But that’s about as far as the comparison goes—it’s hard out there in rural habitats for baby birds, and most don’t make it past a week, the study notes.

Because most birds’ homes are essentially roofless, cup-shaped twig collections, it’s long been assumed that young birds fledge, or leave the nest, during the day to avoid nocturnal predators. But that’s not the case for grassland birds, explains lead author of the new study, biologist Christine Ribic with the U.S. Geological Survey’s Wisconsin Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit. Out on the plains, the predators that threaten birds are often diurnal, and predation threats are high whether the avian youths are in the nest or out in the wild world.

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