Bird Molting By: Thomas W. Gorman

It is always interesting to see and learn so many new things when I am in the outdoors, which can range from watching a Thread-waisted Wasp making its burrow in the ground, up to watching the migration of hundreds (even thousands) of hawks as they head south during the fall migration. In between these two examples, falls a vast array of other intriguing aspects of nature around us. It is really a matter of looking closely and appreciating what beautiful sights are available for us to see and enjoy.

One case which is quite fascinating and which the average person does not really notice is when a bird goes through its molting process. In simple terms a bird molt is when its feathers are naturally replaced either due to damage caused by wear and tear, or when their plumage changes are due to breeding and/or seasonal changes.

Blue Jay in molt

Blue Jay in molt

An example of a molt which occurs because of wear and tear could be that of a Sharp-shinned hawk which tends to fly rapidly through dense vegetation to hunt its prey. When flying in this manner, the hawk will literally “crash” through the twigs and branches, which eventually causes damage to its feathers and its fragile bones. In time, these feathers will be automatically replaced by new feathers.

There are also many species which will go through a molt due to seasonal changes. Many of our local species such as the Northern Cardinal and the Blue Jay will molt either gradually, (where the loss of feathers is not too noticeable), or they will molt in a manner which gives an appearance of a possible sick bird. In the latter case it will appear that the bird is going “bald”, and that it possibly is diseased. When this happens, the former feathers will fall out in patches and be quickly replaced by new feathers.

Northern Cardinal in molt

Northern Cardinal in molt

The molting process is quite an indepth topic and for those interested the link following has a more thorough range of helpful information:

http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/studying/feathers/molting/document_view

 

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