The Meaning of Molting
Birds are beautiful most of the year. However, around this time of the year, birds can look a little worse for wear! Molting season is an incredibly important process in a bird’s life, but it sure doesn’t look too nice. Regardless of that, birders should know about it and support their flighty friends through this ugly season.
This probably doesn’t need to be said, but feathers are important. They obviously help with flight and navigation, but they are assist the birds in other ways! Feathers are incredibly important for mating since certain patterns can draw in other birds. Additionally, feathers can be incredibly important for camouflage as well. Lastly, feathers assist with maintaining and regulating a bird’s internal temperature. Proper feathers insulate and cool a bird whenever needed. All of that explains why molting season is so very crucial to the birds!
Molting season is a little bit like shedding. Whether it is a dog shedding some hair or a snake shedding its skin, molting season is the shedding and regrowing process of feathers. This happens once a year which testifies to the strength of a feather. Birds start to lose their feathers and will even remove some of their own feathers until they look like a bald mess. In this process, the older feathers can lose their color (or even change color altogether). They remain in that bald state for a short while, though. Soon enough, a bird will start to grow new feathers in preparation for the winter!
During the regrowing phase of molting, a lot of things can go wrong though. If something does go wrong, that can result in bird not being able to survive through the winter or beyond. For migratory birds, a bad set of feathers could compromise their flight. For birds that winter over, a faulty coat of feathers would not properly insulate. Should the bird survive until next spring, a discolored feather could make mating impossible. Hopefully by now it is pretty clear: birds need to have a successful molting season.
You can do a whole lot to help them out! The first, raise awareness! So many folks think their birds are ill because of the baldness. That is obviously not the truth! People will throw away seed, take in feeders, sometimes even trash feeders. All of those things are either a waste of money or take away food for the birds. By spreading awareness, we can make sure folks are ready to help out the birds.
The second way to help is by maintaining a proper amount of food, fat, and nutrients during this season. Fat and protein is super important for feather development. All you have to do is feed like you feed during nesting season. Go with suets, mealworms, tree nuts, and BarkButter products. If you do that, your birds will be just fine.
Attached to option two: keep fresh water available. This heat is reason enough to continue to provide water, but bathing is a common practice during molting season. Birds need to clean areas that are literally covered the rest of the year. What I do is set out a pie tin with water as a makeshift birdbath. Obviously setting up a proper birdbath is ideal, but for the time being, anything that is deep enough for the birds to take a bath that isn’t too deep for the smaller
A proper molt will take around 2 weeks, so keep continuing these practices as long as you see the bald birds. Once all of your birds start looking back to normal (can sometimes last well into September), you can ease up on the practices laid out above. However, having fat heavy foods and plenty of water is a good rule of thumb year round!