Can birds pick up their babies?
Are birds built the same way other animals are?
When it comes to animals, we are used to seeing mothers picking up their babies.
It’s not unusual to see a cat carrying its kitten or a bear carrying its cub, but have you ever seen a bird carrying its own hatchling?
READ MORE: What Birds Eat Mosquitoes?
Table of Contents
No Babies and Storks!
We’re often entertained by the image of storks carrying babies in blankets.
But are birds’ bodies built in a way that they can actually do so, especially with their young?
According to ornithologists (scientists that study birds), this has been observed in sixteen types of birds in seven different families of waterfowls.
Cuckoos are one of them. Aerial transport has been observed in these species but reports remain quite uncertain as to how it is done. 
Whether they are carried on the beak or under the wing, reports remain to be anecdotal at best.
This is because these have been observed with difficulty under dim lighting or during times when birds panic when being confronted by predators.
Babies being transported and carried by the parent have been observed in the water though, especially in swans and ducks.
The young usually use their beaks to clamp onto the feathers of the parent bird in order to hold onto them, especially when the parent bird is about to take a dive into the water.
Compared to carrying younger birds in the air to carrying them in water, carrying the young in water is a safer practice as compared to flying with a young one in tow.
This is another reason why it will probably be harder to spot a bird flying while carrying its baby.
READ MORE: Do Baby Birds Eat Their Siblings?
Birds Aren’t Built For Carrying
So why don’t birds generally carry their chicks or hatchlings? The simple reason is that they aren’t built for that task.
Their beaks, claws, and muscles are not meant for carrying their chicks or hatchlings, unlike other species in the animal kingdom.
This is probably one of the reasons why you don’t see parent birds bothering to pick up their babies when they fall from the nests.
Animals will usually carry their young when faced with the threat of imminent danger.
Since birds are incapable of carrying their young to immediately bring them to safety, many of them choose to build their nests in high, hard-to-reach areas. This is quite evident in birds such as eagles and ospreys.
It is also this reason why many birds hatch as many eggs as possible in order to make sure that their species survive, given their lack of capabilities to protect their young.
Going Back to the Stork…
Let’s go back to that cute idea of a stork carrying a baby. Partly true.
Storks are one of the few birds that can actually carry their babies. While this fact may seem so sweet, the reason behind this act is actually quite shocking. 
Storks do carry their babies but when they do, they carry them to throw them out of their nest! It’s not a pretty picture but it is what it is.
Living in the wild can pose many challenges. In the wild, it’s all about survival.
Storks are birds that can actually lay many eggs that do get hatched. Unfortunately, having too many youngsters can lead to a problem with the food supply.
This leads to a lot of competition and even sibling rivalry among the hatchlings. Because of this, the parent stork opts for the next practical thing – to throw out the weakest among the new brood.
One other sad reason why a mother bird ends up carrying its young is because of disease or because that chick may actually be dying.
This is the only way for the parent bird to reassure the safety of the remaining birds in the nest to stay disease-free.
Then You Have the Penguins…
One of the exceptions when it comes to “baby transports” are the penguins. 
Penguins have been observed to transport their babies, (actually, their eggs, to be more precise…) while carrying them between their legs.
They do this in order to protect their potential newborns from the harsh cold conditions that they are born into.
Indeed, the animal kingdom is one that is filled with diversity. Even the way they raise their young, the way it is done varies from one species to the next.
While carrying their young is a sign of nurturing in many species, this is not exactly so for birds.
Ultimately, it’s all about the survival of the species. Maybe, just maybe, the birds have a different instinct altogether when it comes to survival.
Let’s just all be glad that not all of us have gone to the birds then and agree to disagree with them.
Can birds pick up their babies? Let us know your opinion in the comments below!
- 1. Transporting Young [Internet]. Stanford.edu. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 3]. Available from: https://web.stanford.edu/group/stanfordbirds/text/essays/Transporting_Young.html
- 2. Bryce E. What’s Behind the Myth That Storks Deliver Babies? [Internet]. livescience.com. Live Science; 2018 [cited 2021 Dec 3]. Available from: https://www.livescience.com/62807-why-storks-baby-myth.html
- 3. Lee C. How Do Birds Carry Their Young? (Here Are The Facts) [Internet]. Birdgap.com. 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 3]. Available from: https://birdgap.com/birds-transport-young/
Barry Stingmore is a British content writer living in Fuerteventura, Spain. An animal lover at heart, he shares his home with a dog and four rescue cats and has a passion for writing about animals big and small.
Barry loves finding answers to your animal-related questions, the more research involved the better! You can rely on him to find the facts.