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Word of the Week: Altricial
May 09, 2019 by Jon Hayes & Haya Aldoori

Welcome to Word of the Week! Stay tuned for a new word each Friday to amp up your nature vocabulary!

Mama Robin sitting in her nest

Altricial (adjective) [al-TRISH-uh l]: an animal that is born helpless and depends on parental care for a period of time.

This fun word comes from the Latin verb “alere”, which means to “nurse, to rear, or to nourish”.

Last week, our Urban Naturalists club spotted a Robin, with their beak full of materials, working on a nest. Later in the week, we went to check up on the nest and were happy to find mama Robin sitting comfortably in her nest. Once the eggs eventually hatch, the altricial babies will need lots of help from their parents as they hatch without feathers, with eyes closed and unable to fend for themselves.

Many birds are altricial including Robins and most songbirds, Owls, Woodpeckers, Hawks and Herons. Altricial mammals include foxes, coyotes, squirrels, mice and especially humans!

The oposite of altricial is precocial. Ducks and turkeys are examples of precocial birds who are ready to leave the nest in only a few days. Deer and moose are also precocial.

Altricial young really take a lot of work but they sure are cute!!

Watch the altricial Red-Tailed Hawk chicks on the nest cam set up in Ithaca, NY. on this nestcam:

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