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Why Do Wild Birds Look Different in The Late Summer?

A Hush can descend over your garden in late summer and that isn’t because there is less traffic on the roads! There always seem to be less birds about. Then, when you do see them, they can look a little odd. Don’t be concerned because the birds’ somewhat altered appearance is due to the start of the moulting season.

What is Moulting?

Moulting is nature’s way of replacing worn out feathers with stronger and warmer new feathers for the winter months. Young birds lose their first feathers and gain their adult coats before the temperatures really start to drop.

Feathers wear out across the year. Flying, friction between feathers or between feathers and trees, sun exposure and parasites all cause damage to the birds’ coats. White feathers are more prone to wear than darker ones.

How Do New Feathers Grow?

Like our hair, feathers grow from follicles in the birds’ skin. The new feathers push out the old ones and this process is sequential across the body so that birds are not left with bald patches. Moulting patterns vary from species to species but most birds will moult completely during a single year. The process may be spread across more than one period.

Moulting and Flight

The moulting process is draining for the birds and it can make flying more difficult and therefore more tiring. This is why the birds may seem to have disappeared from your garden for a spell. They are more vulnerable and need to remain inconspicuous. Ducks, geese and swans lose all of their flight feathers at the same time and are unable to fly when this happens.

Nature sees to it that moulting does not occur at the times of the year when birds are breeding or migrating. These are the times when they need the most energy and must be able to fly.

Young Birds

In certain species, young birds experience a partial moult during which their wing feathers are retained. The robin is a good example of this. Juvenile robins moult their body feathers and acquire their red breasts but do not moult their wing feathers for an entire year.

Strange Birds

The moulting process can mean that you see some strange looking birds from time to time. You might notice blackbirds with spotty brown heads as the head feathers are the last to be replaced. You could see starlings with white-spotted plumage on their bodies but with the pale brown heads of young birds.

Observing the Moulting Process

If you keep a close eye on the activity in your garden, then you might get the opportunity to observe the moulting process. Bird sightings will be less frequent but most of the birds haven’t gone away. They are merely keeping themselves out of sight to avoid predators as they grow their new feathers for the winter. which the birds can access quickly when they need it.


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