Home & Garden: Birds & molting
WILD ABOUT BIRDS
Free Press Home & Garden Columnist
Found a feather or two in your yard? It is most likely an old one and will be replaced. Feathers are responsible for more than just a bird’s ability to fly; they provide weather protection, making a bird virtually waterproof as well as insulation for cold weather, especially during winter. However, feathers wear out and need to be replaced. This process is called molting.
Typically, birds molt feathers in regular patterns or on specific parts of their bodies, and it may take weeks or months for birds to complete the molting cycle. They shed their flight feathers symmetrically, the first one or two on each wing at the same time, then the next one or two and so on so they can molt wing feathers without affecting their ability to fly.
Body feathers may be shed in tracts or sections. Sometimes jays and cardinals will molt head feathers in groups and look “bald.” Most of our backyard bird visitors molt from July to September. They are looking for high-quality foods to help them grow their feathers.
The main building blocks to grow new feathers are proteins and fats. Young birds and older molting birds seek high-protein foods to grow their feathers as they are made up of more than 90-percent protein.
Birds also need foods with fat. This supplies energy to grow feathers and provide proper coloration to feathers to best attract a mate. If they lack these proper nutrients, it could be a difficult winter and a lonely spring.
You can help molting birds and more readily attract them with foods high in protein and fat like bark butter, peanut butter, peanuts, tree nuts, sunflower chips, and Nyjer.
Changing the subject, let’s talk a little bit about hummingbirds again. Is the hummingbird activity ramping up in your yard? Hummingbirds have fledged their babies and some have even started their migration. They are active at feeders and flowers, as well as sourcing protein from spiders and other insects. Keep your feeders full and clean to watch these little jewels.
I am beginning to get calls asking when to take down hummingbird feeders. You do not need to remove feeders for them to migrate. Hummingbirds are a natural migratory bird and will head south when they decide it is time, whether we have feeders out for them or not. Some people will leave their feeders out until the nectar starts to freeze, which is perfectly acceptable. A good rule of thumb that I recommend to other people is to leave your feeders out until you think you have seen your last hummingbird, and then leave them out for another three weeks in case there are some stragglers coming through.
Enjoy them while you can! We won’t see them again until spring.
Local bird expert and GJ Free Press columnist Larry Collins owns Wild Birds Unlimited, 2454 Hwy. 6&50, which caters to folks who want the best backyard bird-feeding experience possible. Email your bird-feeding and birding questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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