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, June 24, 2009

Is that bird bald?

We have had a bald cardinal visiting our yard. He looks healthy otherwise. Have you ever heard of anything like that? Is there anything I can do for it?

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 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 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.

The description of your Cardinal’s baldness, however, sounds like the unexplainable but temporary feather loss that 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.

No comments: