Have you noticed any fallen feathers around the yard? Many of our backyard birds are beginning their biggest transformation of the year, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. You can play an important role in helping the birds during this time.
Molting is when a bird replaces some (partial molt) or all (full molt) of its feathers. Right now many of our backyard feeder birds are in this feather-transition process.
Although some birds may lose patches of feathers and appear “balding,” most birds’ feather loss and replacement are far less noticeable.
Molting is a complicated process that requires a lot of energy and may take up to eight weeks to complete. Feathers are made of more than 90% protein, primarily keratins, so every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation until next year’s molt.
A recent study demonstrated that bird feeding provides a direct nutritional benefit that supports higher quality feather growth. Molting periods are important times for us to provide a consistent source of food at feeders, especially high-protein foods.
Offer high-protein bird foods such as Nesting SuperBlend™, available exclusively at Wild Birds Unlimited, mealworms, Nyjer®, peanuts, Jim’s Birdacious® Bark Butter®, and blends with tree nuts to ensure that your birds have a reliable source of protein to help them with molting.
Actual duration of molt and timing varies between birds and regions. It takes about four weeks for songbirds to fully molt their feathers. However, in some cases it may take up to eight weeks. Also, more southerly birds molt a bit sooner in a season than their more northerly counterparts.
Interesting fun facts: Goldfinches perform a complete molt somewhere between July and December depending on the species and their geographic region. American goldfinches and lesser goldfinches (in the Central States) also perform a partial molt (head and body) in the spring.
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By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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