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Wednesday's Wildlife: Big Babies 2

A large bird sits beneath a tree on the grass. As people approach, it waddles or hops away but doesn’t fly.  It looks about the size of an adult bird but isn’t flying.  Does it need our help? Let’s find out:

 Canada Geese:


Goslings are born with the ability to walk, swim and feed themselves (called being precocial).  Between hatching to maturity, they stay in a family group, and can be awkward, fluffy, non-flying birds. It can take about 70 days for their first flight.

Young Canada Geese crossing a road.
Figure 1: Young Canada Geese.


Canada geese adults, and most waterbirds in general, molt all their flight feathers at once during the summer months (called a synchronous molt). They cannot fly while waiting for their new set of feathers to grow in.  This is different from other birds who molt a few flight feathers at a time allowing them continued flying during this process. Because of the single molt event in adult geese, both juvenile and adult geese are more likely to retreat to the water than the air in the summer months. While it may look like they need help, once the single molt event is over, the geese will be able to fly again and do not require our intervention.




When the magpie fledgling is ready to leave the nest, it looks nearly as big as an adult. Leaving the nest is a big adjustment. Fledglings will be a little unbalanced as they adjust to being upright and standing on flat ground as opposed to the curves of a cup-nest.  Fluttering and hopping are common behaviours for fledglings, along with fanning their wings and squawking at nearby parents from whom they are hoping to beg food.  

Black-billed Magpie fledgling in a towel in a cardboard box.
Figure 2: Fledgling black-billed Magpie.

Parents supervise their young, checking in with them, and giving alarm calls when pets or people come too close.  It can take some time (usually about four weeks from hatching) for the magpie to develop a full set of flight feathers, along with the muscles and skills to fly.  Fledgling magpies begin with short stumpy tails, which grow longer with time. Young fledglings will spend more time on the ground, or on low perches. Despite looking as big as the adults, they will not yet be able to fly.  This stage is temporary and they are not in need of any help!

Black-billed magpie fledgling begging and young Canada Goose with yellow down on head.
Figure 3: Black-billed magpie fledgling (right) and young Canada goose (left).

Both baby and adult wildlife will need your help if you see the following:


·      Has been attacked by an animal (dog/cat for example)

·      Has visible wounds, broken bone, bleeding

·      Is covered in flies

·      Is shivering or wet

·      Is unresponsive or listless


You can help young wildlife by giving them space, and keeping pets leashed as they grow through this awkward flightless stage.


When in doubt, reach out to Calgary Wildlife’s hotline at 403-214-1312 which provides expert advice, and can help determine if wildlife needs help!


Keep and eye out and a remember to maintain a respectful and safe distance when investigating wild babies in your neighbourhood!





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