With birds, molting refers to the loss of old, worn feathers and the growth of new ones. A molt can involve all of the bird’s feathers (complete molt), or just some of them (such as wing or tail feathers – a partial molt). Most birds have a complete molt once a year (chickadees, hummingbirds, owls, etc.), or one complete molt and a partial molt before the breeding season (buntings, tanagers, warblers, etc.), or two complete molts per year (Bobolinks, Marsh Wrens).
Complete molts often occur in late summer and early fall, after the breeding season is over. When you think about it, the timing of this “prebasic” or “postnuptial” molt makes a great deal of sense. Growing new feathers takes an inordinate amount of energy; food is plentiful now, the demands of breeding are over and for many birds, migration isn’t quite under way. It is the perfect time to look for molted feathers on the ground. (Photo: molted Red-tailed Hawk tail feather)
Naturally Curious is supported by donations. If you choose to contribute, you may go to http://www.naturallycuriouswithmaryholland.wordpress.com and click on the yellow “donate” button.