Blog stats

Monday, August 22, 2011

It's molting time

The usually sleek, every-feather-in-place backyard birds are looking decidedly raggedy these days.  Not only are feathers out of place, they are often missing.  It's not at all unusual to see a bald Northern Cardinal or Blue Jay settling in for a nosh at one of my feeders or for a cooling dip in one of the birdbaths.  And what better time of year to drop a few feathers than when the temperatures are in the triple-digits?

I sometimes get questions from readers concerned that something is wrong with the balding birds that they are seeing around their yards or around town, but, usually, nothing is amiss.  In fact, something is right.  The bird with the dodgy feathers has completed his or her duties as a parent, having flown him/herself ragged while providing food and protection for the next generation.  The old crop of feathers has been completely worn out in the process and it's time for the bird to drop them and grow some new and perfect ones.  Thus, you might see a Northern Cardinal that looks like this today:

   He does look a little shabby and down-at-heel, doesn't he?  But in a few weeks, he'll look like this:

 Sleek and beautiful once again.

And, as for the disheveled Northern Mockingbird that was perched just outside my office window this morning, don't feel sorry for him. 

He may look like this today, with his bare neck showing.

But give him a few weeks and he'll be back in top form again!

I do think it is very clever of Mother Nature to have scheduled the molt for a time when the birds surely need some relief from the heat.  There are few better insulation materials than down and feathers.  They help birds survive in some of the coldest climates on earth, but in August in Texas, it's time to shuck off every feather that you reasonably can.  It's molting time.


  1. That's a good question, ccl, and a very relevant question at this time. I don't see why they wouldn't under the right circumstances, but, of course, birds, unlike people, are sensible enough to take shelter from the sun.