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Bird enthusiasts and nature lovers might have observed a peculiar sight: bald cardinals. But how frequent is this occurrence, and what does it signify? What causes these cardinals to lose their feathers? And, significantly, will these feathers regenerate?
Feathers on birds degrade over time, requiring their replacement. Cardinals, particularly, undergo this feather renewal process, termed molting, annually. It usually occurs in the late summer, following the breeding season, giving the birds a strange bald appearance. Generally, this transformation isn’t easily noticed since birds often shed and replace just a few feathers simultaneously.
While balding occurs in various bird species, it’s particularly noticeable in cardinals because of the contrast between their vibrant red bodies and exposed black-colored heads. Now, let’s further explore the details of cardinal molting.
Related Read: TOP Cardinal Eggs Facts For Bird Lovers & Enthusiasts
When Will Bald Cardinals Most Likely Appear?
Bald cardinals are most likely to be observed during the late summer and early fall, from July to October, as this is the period when they undergo their annual molting process, replacing old feathers with new ones. It’s during this transition phase that some cardinals might temporarily appear bald.
Why Do The Cardinals Go Bald?
The primary reason for cardinals going bald is due to a process called molting. While birds typically shed and regrow their feathers in intervals to prevent large bare patches, there are instances where they might lose all their feathers from a specific region at once.
This abrupt feather loss, especially on the head, results in “bald” cardinals. However, this baldness is temporary. In weeks, the cardinal will regain its vibrant red coat of feathers.
What’s the Purpose of Molting Cardinal?
Molting serves the vital role of replacing old, worn-out feathers. Like human nails and hair, once feathers are fully formed, they’re no longer living and can’t self-repair. If a feather gets damaged, like a chipped nail, it sheds to make way for a new one.
Some bird species undergo multiple molts not only to maintain feather health but also to change their appearance. This change in plumage can be crucial for mating displays and adapting to seasonal environments for camouflage.
However, larger birds might not molt every year. Instead, they shed and regrow primary and secondary feathers over several years to ensure they maintain the ability to fly. Some aquatic birds, however, do become temporarily flightless during their molting phase.
How Long Does A Cardinal Molt For?
Cardinals undergo the molting process for about 12 weeks, during which they shed and afterward regenerate their entire set of feathers.
Do Cardinals Change Colors Post-Molting?
Female cardinals consistently display a muted, lighter brown shade. In contrast, male cardinals are renowned for their striking, brilliant red. However, male cardinals don’t immediately showcase this signature red right after molting. Their new feathers initially have a greyish tint at the tips.
These grey hues naturally wear away as winter approaches, revealing the iconic vibrant red, perfectly timed for the breeding season. The cardinal’s rich red color primarily arises from their diet, which is abundant in carotenoids in foods like honeysuckle and berries.
Is There Any Illness Behind the Baldness in Cardinals?
While it’s possible, baldness in cardinals is rarely linked to illness, so seeing a cardinal with a bald head shouldn’t be an immediate cause for alarm. This appearance is typically an uncommon characteristic of their molting process.
However, if you’re concerned, look for other indicative signs of sickness, such as:
- Trouble in flying
- Challenges in eating
- Cloudy, swollen eyes
- An unsteady or uneven walk
- Dirty or matted feathers (distinct from the appearance of new feathers during molt)
It’s essential to note that there’s limited intervention possible for wild birds. Let nature take its course since illnesses can be a regular part of a bird’s life cycle.
How Can We Help?
While cardinals are generally self-sufficient and molting is a natural process they undergo, there are ways we can assist them during this period:
- Water: Ensure that your birdbath has clean, fresh water. This keeps cardinals hydrated and offers them a place to bathe, helping them shed old skin.
- Nutrition: Molting is energy-intensive. To support this, maintain a supply of high-protein grains in your birdfeeder. This helps in feather regrowth and provides the cardinals the necessary warmth as their new feathers come in.
Spotting a bald cardinal is indeed a rare sight, though not entirely unheard of. There’s no cause for alarm when observing these unique-looking birds. Instead, it’s an opportunity to appreciate and anticipate their return to splendid plumage.
Stay observant during the summer; you might witness this fascinating transformation firsthand!
Hi there! I’m Umar, a devoted pet lover and writer. I’m here to share my insights and experiences about all things pets. From training tips to heartwarming tales, join me in navigating the wonderful world of animals!