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Birds Molting Old Feathers And Growing In New Ones

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)

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7 responses

  1. Sue Wetmore

    One day while out birding I observed a
    redtail hawk perched. The next thing that happened was two tail feathers floated doen by me. This must be synchronized molting.

    September 9, 2019 at 8:14 am

  2. Alice

    My thought was: when a Hummingbird molts, I hope it’s on both sides, because otherwise they’ll be out of balance…then Sue just wrote about that.

    September 9, 2019 at 8:32 am

  3. Kathie Fiveash

    I got a new field guide this year called Bird Feathers by S. David Scott and Casey McFarland. It is really great, has helped me identify the feathers I find. Recommended!!!

    September 9, 2019 at 9:08 am

    • Yes, I have it, Kathie! It IS great!

      September 9, 2019 at 5:05 pm

  4. Bill On The Hill

    I would just love to add a red tailed hawk feather to my turkey feather collection I keep in a very old Coke bottle on the porch… Great find Mary. Did U take it home with you?
    Off subject here Mary: Is it true hummingbirds hitch a ride on the backs of Canada Geese?
    Bill… :~)

    September 9, 2019 at 10:40 am

  5. Sorry to say the apparently harmless hobby of collecting feathers is technically illegal. Keeping any parts of migratory birds is illegal without special federal permit. I once read about a case of two friends who did macrome artwork. One of the friends who lived in Canada collected eagle feathers that drifted down a lake where she lived. She sent the feathers to her friend in the states and they were discovered by postal inspectors. The poor lady got into a heap of trouble. Note that it is not just eagle feathers that are covered. Even native americans need special permit for their feathered costumes.

    October 11, 2019 at 3:03 pm

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