Why Are My Birds Losing Their Feathers

Molting Male Mallard, notice he has no tail feathers

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.

Common Eider male, breeding plumage

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

Molting male Eider

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.

© 2011 – 2012, Carole Sevilla Brown. All rights reserved. This article is the property of BeautifulWildlifeGarden.com We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

Related Posts with Thumbnails

Join the Wren Song Community

Wren Winter Singing crop

Free Exclusive Content and Member's Forum

Sign up for a free membership in the Wren Song Community and you'll have access to a lot more valuable information published exclusively for our members.

Meet other passionate wildlife gardeners from around the country. Share your successes. Learn from your failures. Discover the best resources to help you create welcoming habitat for wildlife in your gardens with native plants so that you will attract more birds, butterflies, native pollinators, and other wildlife to your garden.

Learn more about the Wren Song Community

Comments

  1. says

    Thank you, this is a very informative post! I really appreciated learning that the feather pattern of the males is more subdued after molting. It will help a lot with my bird watching. Please check out my blog on native plants and gardening for wildlife. More postings are in the works now that school is out! Debbie Ballentine, Native Heart Landscapes, http://bit.ly/NH-Blog

Trackbacks

  1. [...] 69. Why Are My Birds Losing Their Feathers? That’s the question I just received. 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? ~Carole Sevilla Brown [...]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current ye@r *

CommentLuv badge