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.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Unidentifiable red bird with a black head and an orange beak

Is it possible for a Robin and a Cardinal to mate? I have an unidentifiable bird in my yard that is red with a black head and an orange beak.

All animals with feathers are in the Class called birds or Aves. There are about 10,000 species of birds and the difference between the American Robin and the Northern Cardinal is similar to that between a dog and a cat. While the dog and cat are both in the Class called mammals, they don’t produce offspring.

Birds have an innate ability to recognize their own species and look for mates based on their song, color of plumage, and behavior or distinctive courtship displays. Only bird species related closely can interbreed, producing hybrids. One example is the Baltimore Oriole which can hybridize with the Bullock's Oriole where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains. 

What you are seeing is the black skin of a cardinal that has no feathers on his head. Just as people make seasonal wardrobe changes, many birds are beginning a transformation of their own, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. This complicated process requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete.

Most birds’ feather loss and replacement is gradual and you may notice they look a little ruffled. But then there are also a select few that go bald. A bald bird at the feeder is a somewhat common sight to see every July and August in mid-Michigan. 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, some Cardinals, Blue Jays, 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 go bald and some don’t or why it’s just the head. Whatever the reason, we know feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation. 

For the next few months, it’s best to offer high-protein bird foods, such as sunflower seed, peanuts, suet and seed cylinders to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with during this stressful time. 

Our #1 seed blend at the East Lansing Wild Birds Unlimited store, is our unique No-Mess Blend which contains sunflower seeds, peanut pieces and white proso millet without the shells. Pound for pound, our No-Mess Blend offers the best value because you do not pay for the shells and the best food for the birds because it's fresh and full of protein.

Related Articles:
Blue Jay Fun Facts http://bit.ly/M2BTwU
Common Grackles http://bit.ly/LAkwxl
Northern Cardinal http://bit.ly/LAkGoG
When is bird migration over? http://bit.ly/M2FgUD
Birds Molting: Out with the Old, In with the New http://bit.ly/M2Flrs


Anonymous said...

We live in Southwestern Ontario, Canada, just east of Michigan. I saw a bird at our feeder tonight that had me stumped. So I googled pictures of birds with red beaks, and your picture and article popped up. It was a definite match. Thanks for your picture and information, as it helped to me to identify our bird. Thanks!

Marketing Gorilla said...

Seen in Georgia just now.