In late summer, many of our birds are molting their feathers, picking up a new set of feathers before the long winter or before taking off on their migratory journey.
In most birds, their molt takes place in an orderly fashion, so much so that sometimes we can't even tell it's going on. But every August, a small number of birds in my local Blue Jay population molt all their head feathers at once. It can be quite a sight!
Though birds can lose feathers due to mites, lice, or other nutritional factors, when it happens at this time of year, you can almost bet that it is just an irregular total molt of the head feathers. But don't worry - the feathers WILL grow back and when they do, you'll have no evidence of which bird was a temporary baldy.
I hear about this happening most amongst Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals. In my yard, I've never seen it happen to any other of our regular visitors, even though the normal molt is clearly occurring.
The lack of head feathers does help you see a feature on a bird that you don't typically see: their ear openings (click on the picture above). These are typically covered by feathers called auriculars or ear coverts.
If you can't get enough of pictures of bald Blue Jays, check out these previous posts on The Zen Birdfeeder:
- If the Blue Jays are Bald, It Must be August
- Bald Blue Jays on our Flickr photostream
- More Bald Blue Jays
- Late Summer Yard Observations
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