About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
a store that provides a wide variety of supplies to help you enjoy the birdwatching hobby.

This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
To contribute, email me at bloubird@gmail.com.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

What is That Red Bird with a Black Head?

I’ve had a couple calls lately trying to identify a new bird in the yard. The callers describe them as red birds with a black heads. Not black wings like a Scarlet Tanager, not orange like a Baltimore Oriole. The bird was a mystery to me until finally a customer was able to capture a picture of one of these unique birds showing up on feeders all across mid-Michigan.
Buzz12Image by frazier.susan via Flickr.
Mystery solved. They are Northern Cardinals going through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers that leaves them bald. After nesting season most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.

Buzz2Image by frazier.susan via FlickrSome Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Common Grackles go through an abnormal molt that leaves them bald and only their black skin showing for some weeks. Many appear to be juveniles undergoing their first pre-basic molt or growth of their first winter adult plumage. There are no scientific studies on why some of these birds are bald or why it’s just the head that goes completely bald all of a sudden.

I don’t believe there is anything wrong with most of these birds, despite how bad they look. The only other reason a bird might lose patches of feathers may be due to health problems such as malnutrition, mite infestation, or some unidentified disease.

Molting Blue Jay with NutImage by Princes Milady via FlickrEven though staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds, the bald birds you are seeing in your yards will be alright without any intervention and grow replacement feathers soon.

I have a couple bald cardinals and a whole family of bald Blue Jays. The jays have started to grow in the new feathers already. Right now they have short feathers on the side and taller ones down the middle of their head like blue faux hawks. Pretty cool!
Enhanced by Zemanta