Larry Collins

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July 19, 2012
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COLLINS: When and why do birds molt?

Most birds undergo a seasonal transformation in summer, losing and replacing their feathers in a process known as molting. Molting describes when a bird replaces some (partial molt) or all (full molt) of its feathers. Birds will also molt if they have lost feathers that need to be replaced immediately. Different species of birds molt at different times of the year and for different reasons. Some birds molt twice a year. During spring/summer, birds (especially males) molt to a much brighter, more colorful breeding plumage in order to be more attractive to potential mates. In the fall/winter, birds return to a less attention-grabbing, non-breeding plumage.Molting is a critical part of birds' lives and is a complicated process that takes time and energy. Molting takes place as birds carry on with their other daily routines.Feathers are more than 90% protein, primarily keratins. Because of the nutritional demands on their bodies to produce feathers and feather pigment, birds must increase the amount of protein and fats in their diets.Molting can be so physically demanding that many species of birds cannot fly during this time. Some birds such as geese, ducks, and swans will molt in seclusion to avoid predators.Offering bird foods high in protein and fats in backyard bird feeders is helpful during molting seasons. Foods such as Nyjer (thistle), peanuts, mealworms, and suet aid birds in replacing their feathers and helps ensure that their pigmentation is bright.

Lack of water can be deadly serious for birds. Saying we've experienced some bad weather this summer would be an understatement. We can help birds and wildlife survive these trying weather conditions by providing much-needed food, fresh water, shelter, and places to raise young.Birds must be ready to fly at all times, and bathing is a critical part of feather maintenance and staying in top-flight condition. Water is also vitally important when the weather is extremely hot and a bird's ability to regulate its body temperature can become stressed.Birds do not sweat and must remove excess body heat through their respiratory system. When temperatures rise, a bird's respiration rate increases, sometimes to the point where it can be seen panting like a dog. This activity dehydrates birds and increases their need for a reliable source of water to replace lost fluids. So, while the addition of a bird bath, fountain, or mister to your yard can supply hours of enjoyable bird-watching entertainment for you, it may also be providing a lifesaving necessity.The lack of water this year has also made the ground hard. Robins, bluebirds, etc., that rely on worms and bugs are having a very difficult time finding food. Providing food for birds that don't eat birdseed can help them make it through a very dangerous time. You can try feeding these birds suet or meal worms which are both very healthy for them. These two foods are helpful because they are a very high energy source and will attract many birds that would never eat birdseed.Local bird expert Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard birdfeeding experience possible. Email your birdfeeding and birding questions to and he'll answer them in his bi-weekly Q&A column in the Free Press.

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The Post Independent Updated Jul 19, 2012 05:56PM Published Jul 19, 2012 05:55PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.