do birds retire?







Red-shouldered Hawk, Buteo lineatus

As I approach that golden age of retirement my birding hobby causes me to look to the avian world for guidance. Do birds retire and perhaps seek that perfect habitat where food and water are plentiful and the temperature ideal all year long? Do they give up those long migrations and the work of nesting and breeding? Do they recreate with other aging birds, have more time for song, or perhaps help with raising of the grand and great-grand chicks? Birds, I know do not crave a large nest egg; for them that just signifies the nefarious work of a parasitic cowbird and means another large mouth to feed. (See earlier post “Birds Behaving Badly / Brood Parasites”, 8/22/2015) In short, is there a golden age for birds?




Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula (click on any photo to zoom)

There seems to be two distinct approaches to this issue in humans; those who want to keep working or must work until they die in the saddle, and those who crave and can afford the free-time of retirement. You can’t explore these issues for birds until you figure out how to determine the bird’s age, and they don’t make that easy.



Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Regulus calendula (click on any photo to zoom)

Bird size is not a reliable dating tool, nor is bird song. Some have observed that second year males often have weird or incomplete versions of the adult song, but you can’t rely on it for dating. Early dating by plumage is straight forward, using natal down and the rapid progression to juvenile plumage, which is usually duller than the adult’s and often spotted or striped. But by late summer, fall, or early winter, depending on the species, the “first winter” plumage develops which is usually very similar to the adult.