Out With the Old, In With the New: Molting in Birds

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

 You may have noticed lately some birds that are looking rather... bald. So, why is this happening? Not to worry, this is all part of a natural process known as molting. Molting is the shedding of old feathers to make way for new feathers. This process renews their plumage! Some birds also transition from their brighter, mating plumage, to their drabber off-season look.  

Molting/ balding male Northern Cardinal. Photo by Leanne LeBlanc

The process of producing new feathers takes a lot of energy and is timed accordingly. Molting often occurs directly after breeding season, while food sources remain abundant. This means that a lot of birds are molting from late summer through early fall. The plumage produced during this period is known as postnuptial plumage. Postnuptial, for humans, tends to mean the period after marriage. For animals, it usually refers to the period following mating season. 

It is always striking to see birds in this strange, transitionary phase. Let's take a look at a few more balding species: 

Balding Common Grackle. Photo by Ramon Delgado 

Balding Black-capped Chickadee. Photo by Leanne LeBlanc.

Due to the fact that molting is a very energy-intensive process, you can help birds during this time by providing high energy food sources. Foods such as peanuts, live mealworms, BarkButter and SuperSuet are all very robust food sources that can help the birds during this transition. 

Bald Blue-Jay with a peanut. Photo by Leanne LeBlanc.

Look around your property and feeders and try to spot balding birds! As always, we love to see your photos. If you are not already a member, please join us in our Facebook group: Ontario Birds by WBU Barrie and WBU Newmarket, where you can share your own photos and view lots of images from others! 



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