About us: We own the Wild Birds Unlimited nature shop in East Lansing, Michigan,
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This blog was created to answer frequently asked questions & to share nature stories and photographs.
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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Does that cardinal bird have mange?

Is it that that time of year to address the perennial bald bird question already? Every July and August it is a somewhat common sight to see some bald birds at the feeder in mid-Michigan. For birds, molting is usually the periodic replacement of feathers by shedding old feathers while producing new ones. And, after the breeding season, most birds go through pre-basic molt that results in a covering of feathers, which will last until the next breeding season.

However, after nesting season some Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays, and Common Grackles go through an abnormal molt or replacement of feathers. 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 and some aren’t or why it’s just the head.

Growing up I remember we would have bald Blue Jays appear at the feeders every fall. They were large, lively, loud, healthy birds with tiny bald black heads. Fortunately, new head feathers grew in within a few weeks.

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.

Due to the timing, I doubt the cardinal’s baldness is the result of bird mites or mange infections. The unexplainable but temporary feather loss is common this time of year. Even though staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds, I believe your cardinal will be alright without any intervention and grow its feathers back soon.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

Molting male Cardinal-Okemos, MI-July 2011

Anonymous said...

https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.1949886788697.2102290.1288411014&type=1

Anonymous said...

I saw one yesterday here in Central Pennsylvania.

Anonymous said...

I was getting worried that I had a possible bird problem. I've seen a bald cardinal for about two weeks. SC

Anonymous said...

I just saw one right in my back yard. Couldn't tell if it was a cardinal or not. It was about twice as bad as the one in this picture. Ugly little fellow. Oh, Upstate South Carolina.

Anonymous said...

There is one I helped for about 2 months before he took off. I still see him everyday and he will come close to you because he wants puffed popcorn. lol. His name is Carl the Cardinal. He is still bald and its been 3 years.

Anonymous said...

I have been seeing one here on Long Island, New York and I had no idea that it was a cardinal.

Anonymous said...

Just saw one of these bald cardinals in our back yard this morning....very unusual looking...London, Ontario, Canada.

Anonymous said...

We have this bird in our yard in Annapolis, except it has no feathers on head or neck and with the plump body, it looks pre-historic!

Anonymous said...

Bummer! But... So glad to have found out! The one we see has NO feathers or anything on his head. My kids and I were completely convinced we had some cool exotic bird visiting us for some reason! Or that someones pet had gotten loose! LOL... Oh well... maybe we will just keep pretending it is. :) Mogadore, Ohio

Anonymous said...

Bald cardinal with a Mohawk, also looks like has gotten mange on rest of body - poor thing.
Sighted daily in Central Missouri location.

Anonymous said...

Bald male and female Cardinal spotted in North Central Alabama. Glad to read it's not a disease.

Anonymous said...

Bald male (dark blue head, no red feathers on the head, but normal red feathered body) appeared on the ground outside my window in Penhook, Virginia. Date was 2 days ago, 6/26/2015. Haven't seen it since.

Ron Wood said...

Buzzard Head is a regular here....our other Cardinals are normal. Poor Buzzad head ..actually seems to hve a body thats MORE chubby/fluffy that typical, but his naked black head seems half "normal" size.

seems this is something happening a lot.. not just here. I'm leaning to the MITES theory. Buzzard head has shown NO signs of new feathers.