That’s the question I just received via the Ask Carole feature at Ecosystem Gardening.
Mary from Philadelphia sent me this question:
I think the birds in my yard may have some kind of disease. They are losing their feathers, and some of them even look bald. Are they sick? Can I do something to help them not lose all of their feathers? Should I call a wildlife rescuer?
Well, Mary I can assure you that your birds are not ill, they are simply molting. Every year after mating season birds get a new set of feathers. If you’re familiar with Warblers at all, you may know that the Peterson Field Guide to Birds has a section called “Confusing Fall Warblers.”
These birds are confusing because after molting, the male birds get a much more subdued feather pattern, which helps to keep them safe from predators. They’re much more colorful in spring plumage when they need to do all that they can to show off for female birds, attract her attention, and hope she chooses them over another male. So in the springtime, flashy feathers are a real bonus.
After mating season though, flashy feathers just call attention to themselves, and it’s not the ladies who are noticing at this time, but the Red-tailed Hawks and other predators. So the the birds lose the “bling” and look more like the females much more subdued plumage
Feathers wear out and get damaged, so birds replace them several times a year, and breeding plumage/fall plumage coincides with these molts. Molting produces feathers that match the age and gender of birds as well.
At this time last year we had a Cardinal in our wildlife garden that we called “Chief One Feather.” His head was completely bald except for one feather that stuck straight up into the air, like Tonto’s. He was really funny looking, but soon he had a whole head of feathers again.
Have the birds in your ecosystem garden started molting yet?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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