What are “Molting” Birds?

Provide food, water and shelter for molting birds.

Birds molt all their feathers at least once a year. “As the seasons change, so do birds’ feathers,” according to Audubon. “One of the most defining features of a bird is its plumage. But as complex and capable as feathers are, they don’t last forever: They begin to break down after some time, forcing its owner to replace them. As a result, a bird’s appearance may radically change through the molting period—or just look odd and patchy.”

What is molting and how does it affect the birds in my yard?

“For many birds, molting is an awkward phase,” states the Audubon Society. “Months of sun, rain, and general wear cause their feathers to deteriorate, so they refresh their plumage at least once a year. That swap usually falls between breeding and fall migration, when it’s easy to lay low and still find plenty of food. The birds stop singing from perches, preferring instead to melt into the browns and grey [colors] of dense thickets until their feathers are replaced—a period that lasts a month or more.”1

When they molt, they don’t make much noise (stop singing) and don’t move very much. In fact, they may not even molt in their nesting area because they want to hide from predators as much as possible, while their flying abilities may be compromised and they’re at their most vulnerable.

How can you help your birds while they’re molting? 

“Molting is energetically expensive—as is migration and breeding. So, birds make sure these three activities don’t overlap. For many of our North American songbirds, that sweet spot in the calendar is July into early August.” For goldfinches, they may finish molting later in the season, since they finish nesting later than other breeding species.

“Songbirds at molting time are difficult to find,” said Joe Smith from The Nature Conservancy. “During molt, birds wander away from their defended nesting territory and stop singing […] with much reduced activity levels.” Even when birds are going through the molting process, they still need to eat. As it happens, molting overlaps at the time of year when natural food sources are plentiful for birds. However, there are still a few ways we can help our feathered friends.

Consider offering food, water and shelter for your molting birds:

  • Sprinkle bird seed on the ground in your existing bushes or shrubs, allowing your birds to feed where they’re safe from predators.
  • Provide water in your birdbath. Water is essential for birds throughout the year. As birds finish their molting process they will seek water to preen and make sure their new feathers are in top flight condition.
  • Add bushes or shrubs for birds to seek shelter close to the ground, where they are protected from predators until they’re finished molting.

Our Bird-Safe® Cardinal Hide-A-Way shelter is an open nesting platform, designed to protect and shelter several cardinals, robins and doves that prefer open nesting platforms. Our heavy duty shelter may be placed in or near—and facing—a shrub by mounting on a 4 x 4 wooden post, providing great shelter for a variety of birds.

Remember, “the birds are still there, they’re just keeping a low profile, because they’re replacing their feathers,” said Jessie Barry of All About Birds. “As birds grow new flight feathers, they are particularly vulnerable. During wing molt, several of their feathers will be less than full length, producing gaps in their wings, so they are not as maneuverable or powerful in flight.

“To minimize attracting the attention of predators, many birds—such as sparrows, warblers, and thrushes—tend to vocalize infrequently and hide in vegetation. With an appreciation of molting, you’ll see that a motley looking bird in late summer is really another incredible stage of a bird’s life cycle.”

Even if you have to fill your feeder a little less than usual in anticipation of your feathered visitors, it’s only temporary. Within the next several months, you can expect your birds to look like “normal” again. In the meantime, continue providing food, water and shelter for your backyard birds to ensure their year-round survival. Offer shelter and shop our Bird-Safe® Cardinal Hide-A-Way shelter today, only available at duncraft.com.

Written by Dawn Coutu



“Angry Birds: Why Molting Makes Our Feathered Friends Grumpy” Joe Smith. Cool Green Science, The Nature Conservancy. Sept. 28, 2015. Oct. 30, 2018. <https://blog.nature.org/science/2015/09/28/angry-birds-molting-grumpy-science/>.

“Bird Watching Tips: It’s Summer… Where Did the Birds Go?” Jessie Barry. All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Jul. 15, 2013. Oct. 30, 2018. <https://www.allaboutbirds.org/bird-watching-tips-its-summer-where-did-the-birds-go/> .

“More Birds Rely on Special Molting Locations Than We Realized,” Jonathan C. Slaght. Audubon. May 18, 2018. Oct. 30, 2018. <https://www.audubon.org/news/more-birds-rely-special-molting-locations-we-realized>.

“Understanding the Basics of Bird Molts: Why birds lose their feathers,” Alvaro Jaramillo. Audubon. Nov. 16, 2017. Oct. 30, 2018. <https://www.audubon.org/news/understanding-basics-bird-molts>.

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