pre·​co·​cial | \ pri-ˈkō-shəl How to pronounce precocial (audio) \

Definition of precocial

: capable of a high degree of independent activity from birth ducklings are precocial — compare altricial

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Precocial and its partner altricial are really for the birds. Well, at least they are often used to describe the young of our feathered friends. The chicks of precocial birds can see as soon as they hatch and generally have strong legs and a body covered with fine down. Those are attributes you would expect in birds described by the word precocial, which traces to the Latin precox, a term that means "precocious" or "early ripening" (yes, that root also gave us the word precocious). Ducks, geese, ostriches, pheasants, and quail are among the birds that hatch precocial offspring. Altricial chicks, on the other hand, are basically featherless and helpless at birth and require days or weeks of parental care before becoming independent.

Examples of precocial in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web Godwits and most other ground nesters, on the other hand, are precocial birds. Jim Robbins, Smithsonian Magazine, 4 Jan. 2022 Game birds, precocial, have larger clutches because the young, feathered and out of the nest upon hatching, are more subject to predation. Jim Williams, Star Tribune, 29 June 2021 The opposite are precocial birds, birds that hatch with feathers and are mobile and ready to go shortly after emerging from the egg. Anna Thomas Bates, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 28 June 2017

These example sentences are selected automatically from various online news sources to reflect current usage of the word 'precocial.' Views expressed in the examples do not represent the opinion of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback.

First Known Use of precocial

1869, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for precocial

New Latin praecoces precocial birds, from Latin, plural of praecoc-, precox

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The first known use of precocial was in 1869

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Cite this Entry

“Precocial.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 23 May. 2022.

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