Backyard Nature Wednesday: What was that?
I was trying and mostly failing to get a decent picture of this Rose-breasted Grosbeak at one of my backyard feeders when this guy showed up:
Wha...??? Is it a skeksis? No, it's actually a cardinal. A bald-headed cardinal.
Birds go through an annual molt, generally in mid to late summer after all nesting duties are completed and the kids are fledged and on their own. As you can imagine, feathers take quite a beating what with migration, then establishing and defending a territory, building a nest and raising a family. By the end of summer, they have been seriously degraded, so over a period of weeks, the bird gradually shucks them off and grows shiny new ones in their place. These bright new feathers take them through fall, winter, spring, and partway through summer until its time to shed them in turn and grow new ones.
As a bird gradually sheds and grows new feathers, it is not unusual to see a bald-headed Northern Cardinal or Blue Jay or Common Grackle. I've even seen an almost naked Carolina Wren in late summer. But I don't recall ever seeing a bald-headed bird this early in the season.
So, is this cardinal molting? It seemed to be perfectly healthy and active with no other noticeable symptoms other than the bare head, but the nesting season is not over yet and it seems too early for a molt. Something else may be at work - possibly a heavy infestation of feather mites.
Or maybe he's just an early molter.
At any rate, whatever his problem, it hadn't interfered with his appetite as he spent several minutes chowing down on my birdseed.