The Ugly Duckling of Cardinals

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Seeing this sweet girl for the first time nearly broke my heart! I just froze as I watched her eat at my feeder, trying to figure out what had happened to her. Poor girl.

Convinced she was ill and had some sort of disease, I started my online research for an answer, only to discover that this phenomenon is somewhat of a mystery.

I’ve seen three theories about these bald cardinals:

  1. The birds have mites that they can’t reach on their own heads, and the mites are chewing the feathers away
  2. The birds are molting and new feathers will grow back before winter sets in
  3. Poor nutrition, usually from a threatened habitat making food sources scare, has caused feather loss

DSC_0078bI’m hoping it’s theory #2, which makes sense to me. Once a feather has grown to full size, it is no longer connected to the blood supply.  So, each bird must get a new set of feathers every year; this is what they call molting.

I’ve only seen this one cardinal effected by this phenomenon, but I’ve read that it can also happen among blue jays and the common grackle. And apparently, it’s only adults and a small percentage of the species that experience this condition.  It also just happens to show up in the summer.

Weird, right?

And sad, when you think that the female whose lost her feathers may have difficulty attracting a mate. But I did the happy dance for her last night when I saw a striking male feed her, which I assumed was part of his mating ritual.  She may be the ugly duckling of cardinals, but he still thinks she’s fine.

You go girl!

 

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