I have a bald bird at my feeder. Is it sick?

bald-headed Northern Cardinal, photo by Rohini Mehta, Centreville, Virginia
A bald-headed Northern Cardinal. Photo by Rohini Mehta, Centreville, Virginia.

We receive many inquiries about bald birds, especially Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals. In late summer and fall, when a bird molts, it usually grows and replaces its feathers gradually, but occasionally a bird loses all the feathers on its head at once. This is particularly true of Blue Jays, many of which molt the feathers of the head, or “capital tract,” in synchrony. The result is a very strange looking bald bird! This bald appearance lasts for about a week before new feathers replace the molted ones.

It is possible that in rare cases baldness might be caused by environmental or nutritional factors, feather mites, or lice. To read more and see photos of bald birds, visit the Unusual Birds page on the Project FeederWatch web site.

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