Birds gone bald!


Are you scratching your head over some bald-headed birds? Summer and fall are times of the year that many birds molt. We generally don’t notice their molting because replacement of feathers is staggered, with only a few replaced at a time.

Northern Cardinal. The hole below the eye is the bird’s ear. (Matt Salas / Flickr; cc by 2.0)

Some Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, however, molt to the beat of a different drummer — they drop all their head feathers at once, leaving them, well…as you can see in this photo. Very bald and very strange-looking.

Experts believe bald-headed birds may be juveniles undergoing their first prebasic molt after fledging, during which they replace all their feathers with adult winter plumage. Or it could be something else. The Cornell Lab speculates that the temporary baldness could also be the result of feather mites or lice, nutritional deficits or something in the bird’s environment.

Bald-headedness is pretty common in Blue Jays and frequent enough to be considered within a normal range among Northern Cardinals. Sometimes other species of birds become bald-headed, too.  

More reading:
The Buffalo News: Information and comments about bald-headed birds
Farm and Dairy’s discussion about bald-headed Northern Cardinals