Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Bald is (not) Beautiful

Today's post is in singalong form, sung to the tune of Time of the Season by The Zombies.

It's the time....
of the season....

(dum, dum, dum)
for feather mites.

In this time

preening isn't easy
(dum, dum, dum)
and you can try with beak and feet
To preen away the nasties
on your head
but they're just out of reach

Its the time
for male card'nal pattern bald-ness!

I could go on, but there's a restraining order...

Every fall we get several calls at Bird Watcher's Digest about "This weird-looking bird at my feeder! It's like a cardinal but it has a black head!"

It's an annual occurrence. The feather mites build up on cardinals and other birds in late summer and concentrate or do their most obvious damage in the one place that a bird cannot preen: its own head. I've seen bluebirds and blue jays with similar feather loss, but it seems to be most common or at least most noticeable in northern cardinals.

The head feathers get degraded by the mites and fall out. For a week or two the pathetic-looking cardinals come and go to our feeding stations sporting vulture-like black skin heads. Then, in one of Nature's most merciful acts, new feathers grow in and the cardinals look normal again.

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