Precocial Birds or Altricial Birds? What’s the Difference?

precocial birds

Is a raven born precocial or altricial?

Precocial birds are born very different than altricial birds.  Do you have any idea what those fancy terms mean in terms of newborn birds?

All animals give birth to babies.  Baby birds look very similar to the adults when they are born, but they are born in one of two main ways – precocial or altricial.  These are two different strategies that birds have evolved over time to have and raise their young.  I’ll explain what they are and give examples of each in the Rocky Mountains.

What Are Precocial Birds?

These birds are able to move around by themselves shortly after they are born.  They also have feathers, and their eyes are open.  Soon after they are born they are already able to run around and feed for themselves.

A major difference is that precocial birds do not need as much parental care and are often taken care of by just one parent.

What Are Altricial Birds?

Birds or other animals that are born helpless and need their parents help in order to survive are called altricial.  Altricial birds are born weak, blind, naked (have no feathers), and are not able to move very far.  Altricial birds can’t even maintain their own body temperature.

Altricial birds are born so helpless that they require more parental care and often require both parents to take care of them and raise them.  Since they can’t keep their body temperature warm enough one parent will have to sit on top of them in the nest.

Examples of Precocial Birds In The Rocky Mountains

Many waterbirds give birth to chicks that are precocial.

precocial birds

Mallard ducklings are born precocial.

Mallard ducklings are able to swim about and feed on their own shortly after they are born.

precocial birds

Photo via Flickr.

Wood ducks are another good example of a precocial water bird.

Examples of Altricial Birds In The Rocky Mountains

Many songbirds, woodpeckers, hummingbirds, and raptors are born altricial, needing their parents help in order to survive.

precocial birds

An Osprey perched high up on a tree by itself.

Ospreys are altricial when they are born.

precocial birds

Looking out from the nest.

Downy woodpeckers are altricial when they are born.  Their nests are often located inside of trees.