Sure enough, when I headed over there around 10 am on Thursday, at least two and quite likely more of the babies had already left the nest. The parents were rushing about keeping track of and finding food for the new fledglings as well as the nestlings. The male and female both came to the nest during the first few minutes after I arrived and fed the ones still in the nest, but they also came in a few times without food, perhaps just encouraging the nestlings to make the jump.
Back at the nest, no little chickadees were up at the entrance, so I presume I got to see the last three fledge. I’d seen the parents trying to deal with at least two fledglings when I arrived. Chickadee nests usually produce 5-9 chicks, and it’s exceedingly difficult for the parents, much less people, to keep track of them when they fledge to count them, so I’ll never know exactly how many chicks were in there.
It was so fun watching the little ones looking around and figuring out the big world. While they were in the nest cavity, they could see out in only one direction, which didn’t include the thick area of trees and shrubs where the parent wanted them. Everything was new.
Parent birds give their young a perfect diet and so much more—exactly the kinds of contact, by touch and vocally, that their chicks need, and exactly the education that will give the young birds a chance of surviving in the wild. What most people give baby birds is nothing more than food. It reminds me of that experiment when baby chimpanzees were given nothing but a bottle and a wire doll, and grew up to be very stunted mentally and emotionally. Baby birds don’t have a chance of a real life after that kind of experience.
When you see a fledgling, consider yourself lucky, but don’t make the bird unlucky by removing it from its home and family. If it really does seem to be in danger, on the ground, you can pick it up to put it in some nearby shrubbery, but don’t do more than that without describing the situation to a wildlife rehabber and getting careful instructions for where to bring it. The only reason we have birds at all is because parent birds really do know how to raise them themselves.