Some birds that live on the ground have dresses of down to begin with.
These little fellows have no warm nest to stay
in, but run around almost as soon as they come
out of the egg. Young ducks and geese wear
this baby suit for weeks, before they begin to put
on their feather coats.
Young birds that spend most of their time in
the water, like grebes, and others that live in a
cold country, have the down very thick and fine,
like heavy underclothes, to keep them dry and
Birds whose home is underground, like the
kingfisher, or in the trunk of a tree, like the
woodpecker, have hardly any down at all. They
need no baby clothes in their warm cradles.
Robins and most other song birds have only
a little down on them, and very soon the feathers
begin to grow.
When the tiny quills push themselves up, they
look like little white pins sticking out all over.
Each bit of down grows out of a little raised
place on the skin that looks like a pimple, and
the feather comes out of the same.
As tbe feather grows, the bit of down clings
to it till it is broken off. Sometimes it holds
on till the feather is well out. We can often
see down sticking to a young bird's feathers.
The little feathers grow very fast, and before
he is ready to fly a young bird is well covered.
Birds hatched with their eyes open, and already
dressed, who have to run and fly very soon, get
their wing feathers early; but birds who live
many days in the nest, like robins and bluebirds,
do not get theirs till they are nearly grown.
The tail feathers are the last to come to full
length, and you will notice that most birds just
out of the nest have very dumpy tails.
A bird's first suit of feathers is called his nestling plumage. In some families it is just like
the dress of the grown-up birds, but in others it
is not at all like that. It is usually worn only
a few weeks, for the young one outgrows it,
and needs a new and bigger one before winter.
When a bird is fully dressed, his body is entirely covered, and it looks as if the feathers
grew close to each other all over him. But it is
not so. The feathers grow in patterns, called "feather tracts," with spaces o£ bare skin between them. These bare places do not show,
because the feathers lap over each other and
There is another curious thing about the nestling plumage. You would expect a young bird
to look like his father or mother ; and some of
them do. Many nestlings are dressed exactly
like their mothers; and not until they are a
year old do the young males get a coat like their
father's. Some of them, indeed, do not have
their grown-up suits for two or three years.
Then, again, many young birds have feathers different from both parents. Young robins have
speckled breasts, and spots on the shoulders,
which the old birds have not.
When the father and mother are dressed alike,
as the song sparrows are, the young birds generally differ from both of them. When the father
and mother are different, like orioles or bluebirds, the young are usually like the mother the
first season. In some cases the father, mother,
and young are almost exactly alike.
Birds who live on the ground need dresses of
dull colors, or they would not be very safe.