About us: We own a wild bird feeding supply 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.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Black-headed or bald-headed-vulture-cardinal

I’ve seen a lot of rough looking birds lately with feathers poking up here and there. I know that soon I’ll be getting calls about black-headed or bald birds.

Every July and August it is a somewhat common sight to see some bald birds at the feeder in mid-Michigan. Molting, for birds, 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 Cardinals, BlueJays, and 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.

So if you see a Vulture Cardinal or Mohawk Blue Jay, don't worry. The unexplainable but temporary feather loss is common for this time of year. Even though staggered feather replacement is the normal pattern for most birds, I believe these birds will be alright without any intervention and grow their feathers back soon.

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