Nidifugous and nidicolous organisms

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In biology, nidifugous (UK: /nˈdɪfjʊɡəs/ ny-DIF-yuu-gəs, US: /-jə-/ -⁠yə-) organisms are those that leave the nest shortly after hatching or birth.[1] The term is derived from Latin nidus for "nest" and fugere, meaning "to flee".[1] The terminology is most often used to describe birds and was introduced by Lorenz Oken in 1816.[2] The chicks of birds in many families, such as the waders, waterfowl, and gamebirds, are usually nidifugous.

The opposite of nidifugous organisms are nidicolous (/nˈdɪkələs/ ny-DIK-ə-ləs; from Latin nidus "nest" and -colus "inhabiting") organisms; a nidicolous organism is one which stays at its birthplace for a long time because it depends on its parents for food, protection, and the learning of survival skills. Examples of nidicolous species include mammals and many species of birds. During the life span, the brain of a nidicolous animal expands 8–10 times its initial size; in nidifugous animals, it expands from 1.5 to 2.5 times.[3][4]

Relation to precociality and altriciality[edit]

Two other terms are also used by scientists for related developmental phenomena: altricial (relatively undeveloped at birth or hatching; helpless, blind, without feathers or hair, and unable to fend for themselves) and precocial (relatively developed at birth or hatching; able to fend for themselves).[5]

The term nidifugous is sometimes used synonymously with precocial, as all nidifugous species are precocial. However, not all precocial birds leave the nest; some may stay at the nest, and are thus considered nidicolous rather than nidifugous. Many gulls and terns are precocial but nidicolous.[6]

Although there is much overlap between altricial and nidicolous species and most nidicolous animals are altricial, the terms are not identical. All altricial animals are nidicolous by necessity, but an animal may be nidicolous even if it is precocial and fully capable of leaving if needed.[2] Examples of precocious but nidicolous species include many gulls and terns.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b "nidifugous". Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  2. ^ a b Starck, J. (1998). Avian Growth and Development. Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-510608-3.
  3. ^ Grene, M. (1974). The understanding of nature: Essays in the philosophy of biology. Dordrecht: Reidel Pub.
  4. ^ Sutter, Ernst (1951). "Growth and Differentiation of the Brain in Nidifugous and Nidicolous Birds". Proceedings of the International Ornithological Congress. Uppsala: Almqvist & Wiksell. 10: 636–644 – via Biodiversity Heritage Library.
  5. ^ Ehrlich, P. R., Dobkin, D. S., & Wheye, D. (1988). The birder's handbook: A field guide to the natural history of North American birds: including all species that regularly breed north of Mexico. New York: Simon & Schuster, p. 582
  6. ^ a b Ehrlich, Paul R.; Dobkin, David; Wheye, Darryl (1988). "Precocial and altricial young". Retrieved 2018-01-31.