Bald Bird Season

Bald northern cardinal, June 2015 (photo by Matt Webb)
Bald northern cardinal, June 2015 (photo by Matt Webb)

It’s that time of year again when some birds go bald.  Don’t worry. They won’t stay that way.

Bird bander Matt Webb explained why this happens when he posted his photo of a bald northern cardinal on Facebook:

“The loss of [head] feathers is due to feather mites. They are able to deal with the mites on the rest of their body, but end up breaking their feathers off their heads when they scratch at the mites. They will re-grow the feathers this fall. It’s actually a pretty common and normal occurrence with Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays, and seems to be prevalent at this time of year.”

Two weeks ago I saw a bald blue jay near Schenley Plaza.  He didn’t want me to take his picture so I had to keep my distance.  In this photo he almost looks normal …

Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

… but when he turns his head he’s bald with an Elizabethan ruff around his neck.  😉

Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bald blue jay, June 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

When birds are bald you can see that …

  • Their ears are holes below their eyes, though usually covered by feathers. Our ears are holes too, partly covered by a flap of skin.
  • Their eyes are large compared to the size of their heads.
  • The northern cardinal’s skin and the roots of his feathers are black.
  • The blue jay’s skin is dark but the roots of his feathers are not.

 

Have you seen any bald birds lately?

(Vultures don’t count! They’re always bald.)

 

(photo of bald northern cardinal photo by Matt Webb, photos of bald blue jay by Kate St. John)

11 thoughts on “Bald Bird Season

  1. Saw the title of this post and was excited to share I’d finally seen a bald blue Jay the other week outside Frick Fine Arts across from Schenley Plaza. You’d blogged about them in the past, but I’d never seen one. Well! I bet you have pictures there of the same individual. There’s no scooping you. Interesting how/why it occurs.

  2. I have to say I have not but with all the rain I haven’t been out as much either. I did come across a blue jay the other day that was unusual. There is a small community park at the end of my street and I saw this jay uncharacteristically perched and very still on a fallen branch at the edge of the park. I walked slowly toward it and it remained still as I got within ten or twelve feet of the bird. Again, very unusual for a jay. It was then I noticed that the jay’s left wing’s primary and possibly secondary feathers were not there. Other than that the bird looked fine. Finally he just hopped from branch to branch into the thick brush and he was gone.

    Is he out of the nest a little to early? I don’t know.

    I fear if his feathers don’t grow he will be an easy target when the leaves come down in the fall.

    Gene

    1. Gene, without left wing feathers he can only walk. You’re right that he isn’t long for this world.

  3. Yes about a week ago a male cardinal and his head was bald. It was strange… I’ve seen about 3 times at my feeder.

  4. I have several pictures of a bald Blue Jay in my yard from a few years ago. It was the first time I saw that and thought something was wrong with him. I have a couple pics of him with a peanut, in the shell, in his mouth. Thanks for sharing an explanation!!

  5. Here in Eastern Washington, I have seen three bald crows hanging out with two other adult crows. I thought they might be fledglings since the under side of one looked slightly speckled. Our weather has been exceptionally dry and hot.

  6. I just got another look at those poor crows. The gray underneath is the skin! Feathers are off underneath. I’m going with mites. We didn’t have a cold enough winter to kill them!

  7. We have a bald (male) red cardinal here in Spring Branch Texas. He has been jumping at and pecking at every window in our home this year – started in April.
    Can anyone explain this behavior. It seems he might be hunting for small insects, however we don’t see any insects he might be catching. He is making quite a mess of the windows. He is here pretty much every day, every couple of hours, from dawn till dusk !

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