Birds with Missing Feathers

Cardinal starting to molt, while finishing up nesting season.

“Has there been anything said about some birds missing feathers around their necks?” our Facebook fan Christy Librock Hibsch asked at the end of summer. “I have a blue jay and a starling that have bare necks. They don’t seem to be juveniles and seem to act normal, but they look a bit odd.” Thank you for sharing your observation with us, Christy. Let’s consider what may be happening.

“In late summer and early fall, it isn’t unusual to see a bald blue jay,” according to bird expert Melissa Mayntz. “The feathers will grow back within a few weeks.”

When you see “bald” or ragged-looking birds, or birds with missing feathers, what you’re seeing are birds in the process of molting. This is a regular phenomenon and happens around the same time each year, although the exact timing is different for each bird. Nancy Castillo of The Zen Birdfeeder shared the following observation, “Birds will lose feathers, many of which are worn and tattered from the rigors of raising young and those feathers will be replaced with new feathers.”

The next time you see what looks like a “bald” bird, remember that molting is an important stage of each bird’s life cycle and its new feathers are essential for survival. Birds need to keep their feathers in tip-top shape to escape from predators at a moment’s notice. Learn more about the process of molting and how it affects your backyard birds.

Watch the following video to see a “bald-headed” Blue Jay eating seed at the feeder, courtesy of the Cornell Lab Bird Cams.

Written by Dawn Coutu



“Bald-headed Birds” Project FeederWatch, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Oct. 30, 2018. <>.

“Bald stage of a molting Blue Jay” Photos by Bob Vuxinic. Project FeederWatch, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Oct. 30, 2018. <>.

“Bird Watching Tips: It’s Summer… Where Did the Birds Go?” Jessie Barry. All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. July 15, 2013. Oct. 30, 2018. <>.

“What to Watch for in Your Yard – Molting Birds” Nancy Castillo. The Zen Birdfeeder. Aug. 11, 2015. Oct. 30, 2018. <>.

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