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After hatching, young birds receive food in different ways. We may have the image of a parent regurgitating its food and feeding it directly to its babies, but they feed in several other ways.

Nestlings get fed by their parents either directly or indirectly. Birds can directly insert food directly into the chicks’ mouths after regurgitation to soften it. The chicks can take food from the parents mouths directly. Food can also be dropped in the nest, while highly precocial birds learn to feed themselves very early.

If you want to know how parents feed young birds, this article will give you some great information.

Chicks feeding

Fed by parent

A picture that we often have in mind when thinking of baby chicks feeding is their parents feeding them from their mouths, and there are several ways that they do this.

Parents bill inside of chicks bill

As the chicks open their mouths wide, the parent brings them and drops solid food in for them to eat. Although solid, the food is mashed up, either due to pre-digestion of the food kept in the stomach or the crop or in order to kill it. As the chicks get older and demand more food, the food is dropped off without as much pre-digestion.

Young birds will beg with their mouths open at the slightest movement of the nest, even before their eyes are open and they can see. Once they are older and can see better, the chicks will only open their mouths when they see their parents arrive at the nest.

The inside of a bird’s mouth is brightly coloured and patterned, allowing the parent to drop off food directly into the mouth quickly.

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Chick bill inside of parents bill

When birds regurgitate food from their stomach or crop, the chicks will often put their bills inside their parents’ bill. Many birds feed in this way, such as herons and pelicans.

Feeding in this way allows pre-digested solid food as well as semi-liquid food to be passed over. Many species, such as pigeons, doves and penguins, pass food that contains a lot of blood in this way. Older nestlings usually practice feeding in this way, even if they initially waited for the food to be dropped into their mouths when younger.

Solid food directly from parents bill

Taking solid food directly from their parent’s bill can be hazardous for many species of birds, especially predatory or carnivorous birds. Many species have long, hooked bills, and it is possible that in their excitement, the young can injure their parent trying to get the food.

If more than one youngster is trying to get the food, this can get very hazardous, especially around the parent’s eyes.

Older nestlings will receive their food in this way in some species, such as herons. The nearest and the fittest will receive the food first, usually shown by being the noisiest and strongest.

Chicks with the best survival chances are nurtured before others for the species to continue, a sign that only the strong survive. Unfortunately, this means those that don’t have the best survival chances will die. This often happens in large broods where only a small amount can be raised successfully.

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Solid food dropped in nest

Predatory species often drop solid food in the nest for the chicks to feed on. However, this depends on the age of the young bird. While very young birds are fed directly from the parent’s bill, older nestlings can tear their own food. By using their talons and bills, larger food is dropped into the nest.

This allows the nestlings to learn how to move and take apart their prey itself, teaching them vital survival skills. Because older chicks need more food, this also allows the parents more time to find and catch food rather than prepare it.

Vultures will store the food in their crop before dropping it off, regurgitating it into the chick’s bill or dropping it into the nest. Many other birds of prey will take it in their feet or bills before dropping it into the nest.

Bird feeding

Yolk sac

The yolk sac is a multifunctional organ that serves as a site of nutrient (yolk) absorption and for the early formation of blood vessels in birds.

The remnants of the yolk sac help nourish chicks with a liquid diet through the incubation phase. Once the chick has hatched, the yolk sac is withdrawn into the abdomen, continuing to feed the chick for the first couple of dar while their digestive system adapts enough to be able to eat and process solid food.

Where chicks are left to feed on their own, mostly in precocial species, the yolk sac is extremely important for the first day or so.

Although the parents may show them what to eat, the young birds will still need a few days, and the yolk sac helps them survive. Altricial species of birds do have a yolk sac, but this is generally smaller.

Chickens do not need to be fed anything for the first 48 hours as they survive on the nutrients from the yolk sac.


Highly precocial birds are usually the only birds to self-feed in their early days. They are at an advanced stage once they hatch, so they don’t require as much parental care. This allows them to find food themselves, normally within a few hours.

Chickens will find their own food, as will many other game birds. Many megapodes such as the collared brush turkey, Tongan megapode, and the Orange-footed scrubfowl are highly precocial, as are nightjars and bustards.