pre·​co·​cial pri-ˈkō-shəl How to pronounce precocial (audio)
: capable of a high degree of independent activity from birth
ducklings are precocial
compare altricial

Did you know?

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 Comparison with avian brain evolution suggests that placental brain size should be constrained due to placentals’ relative precociality, as has been hypothesized for precocial bird hatchlings. Razib Khan, Discover Magazine, 10 Sep. 2010 Ducks are what scientists call precocial birds — capable of feeding, swimming and walking soon after hatching. New York Times, 22 June 2022 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 examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'precocial.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


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

First Known Use

1869, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of precocial was in 1869


Dictionary Entries Near precocial

Cite this Entry

“Precocial.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

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