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Late Summer and Early Fall Bloomers
September 28, 2009

My apologies for those of you that had some graphic mess ups last week.

Sometimes servers aren't on the same page.

(Chickadee at my peanut feeder).

Our stretch of balmy weather has come to an end.

Temperatures in the mid to upper 50's, gale force winds Thunder storms and some well needed rain ushered in the new week late Sunday evening.

That is 20 to 30 degrees cooler than most of this month has been here in southwest Michigan.

Oh well, it is Autumn after all.

We need rain, and lots of it.

Trees are showing signs of stress and this will more than likely effect Autumn's colors this year.

Drought or dry locations can expect a shorter and possibly less colorful fall this year.

Darkness is now several minutes longer than the daylight hours, at least here it is.

Technology is great, especially when you know how to use it.

It is quite frustrating however, when you don't quite grasp everything.

As you may know, I finally purchased a digital camera a couple of months ago.

Probably a middle of the road camera, but has a few neat things it can do.

Well, this past week I was busy taking a boat load of pictures.

Typical ones, like late bloomers and late season visitors like Monarchs, a Giant cicada, hummingbirds, other birds and so on.

Downtown Grand Rapids isn't Chicago, Dallas, Miami, or New York, but for the next couple of weeks, we have something that no where else on the planet has.

We have 'ArtPrize' going on.

Artists from around the world are here with some of their work.

Last Friday afternoon, Karen and I went downtown to see some world class art.

Statues, sculptures, painting and other things deemed art.

Many items were very impressive.

I made sure I took several pictures that day.

So, now I have pictures of birds, flowers and other things from around here, pictures of Yolanda, my grandson and all these nice pictures of art.

Some how, this real man of genius deleted everything on the camera.

(Close up of same chickadee).





There were some nice pictures and I planned on sharing some of them with you.

Not now..............................

Sunday morning, on the way to church really felt and smelled like Autumn.

Now I understand that changing colors and cool crisp days are a distant thought for many of you, however I need your help.

For the past 2 or 3 weeks, I have been asking for your fall favorites.

Allow me to reword that.

What do like or enjoy most about Autumn?

It might be the cool crisp days.

Fresh air and the smell of falling leaves.

Do you enjoy the pumpkin patch or apple orchards?

Maybe it is the idea of finally changing decorations or closing the pool.

The first killing frost that wipes out pollen so you can breathe again.

Halloween, anything that you enjoy or brings back a memory for you.

Many of you have responded in Autumn's past.

Don't be afraid to respond again, repond every year.

Reply back with your vitals

First Name.

Town, city or region you live in.

State or province.

I have a about 10 responses right now, but another 10 or more will really make for a nice 'Fall Favorites.'

'Fall Favorites' will be published October 12.

Thank You.

As of yesterday, I still have a humminbird hanging around.

Usually they are gone by September 24th, but every now and then, we are blessed by one of god's jewels for a few extra days.

Most of my American goldfinches are done with their fall molt, though some are still changing.

Those that had a late brood are slow to change.

Several Northern cardinals are coming back to my yard and they are looking mighty fine in their new wardrobe.

Cardinals are one bird I know of that goes into hiding when they are undressing and dressing.

Yes, it almost seems as though they are embarrassed to look a mess when molting and spend more time in the woods.

You may notice or noticed a lack of cardinals at your feeders for a few week stretch.

They will be back.

Molting is a necessity for birds.

It may seem a bit boring for you and me, but I'll cover some basics over the next two weeks that will hopefully help you understand.


The replacement of all or part of the feathers is called a molt or Moult.

I will use molt in this letter.

A feather is a "dead" structure, somewhat like your hair or nails, except your hair and nails continue to grow.

We can cut off split ends and trim up and manicure cracked nails.

Since feathers cannot heal themselves when damaged or keep growing like a finger nail or hair, they have to be completely replaced.

Damaged feathers are replaced during a molt.

When a feather that has been lost, it completely is replaced immediately.

The hardness of a feather is caused by the formation of the protein keratin.

Molts produce feathers that match the age and sex of the bird, and sometimes the season.

Molting, like migration occurs mostly in response to a mixture of hormonal changes brought about by seasonal changes (typically length of day).

The entire process is complex and many questions remain regarding how the process takes place and often Einstein like equations are used to show body weight, energy used and so on.

No need to bore you with that stuff, besides.............

I don't understand it myself.

A basic understanding of molting patterns can, however, be a useful aid in identifying many species and in determining their age.

In temperate zones, cue for molt initiation is day length, which has an effect on the hormone levels that ultimately control molt progression.

Molting is very costly, as it consumes energy and can cost a bird in its ability to fly.

The bird replaces 25 – 40 percent of its dry mass, drawing on protein and energy reserves to make and grow new feathers and to offset the effects of reduced insulation and flight ability.

Because it is so costly, molt is often interrupted in order to begin breeding activities or for migration.

For example: Common white terns molt almost continuously to replace their easily worn, unpigmented feathers, but interrupt molt upon laying an egg.

Some migratory birds interrupt molt to migrate and resume it at the end of migration (Peregrine Falcon and American Golden Plover).

Something we don't think about when we think about birds molting is this.

Many birds go through a quick series of plumages in their first months of life, and then cycle between a basic, or winter, plumage worn for most of the year and an alternate, or breeding, plumage worn only during spring and summer.

This may bore you to tears, but here is a plumage sequence and molt.

Pay attention, there may be a quiz afterwards :-)

Many bird watchers are used to thinking of the often brighter summer plumage as a bird's main look, so this system may confuse you at first.

Birds that have a breeding and non breeding plumage are usually in the non breeding plumage for a longer period of time from late summer or early fall to early spring.

Often following a full molt.

Prebasic molt:

In most north-temperate passerines, the first and adult prebasic molts usually take place from July–September, just after the breeding season.

Prebasic molt usually takes place on the breeding grounds, but may take place during fall migration or on the winter grounds.

In adults, the prebasic molt is usually complete and results in the adult basic plumage.

In first or hatch-year birds, it is referred to as the first prebasic molt and results in the first prebasic plumage.

The first prebasic molt is not complete, since the feathers of the primaries and tail are often not replaced.

The second prebasic molt is complete, and results in the second basic plumage, which is generally the adult definitive plumage (adult basic plumage).

Many birds don't reach their true adult colors until the second basic molt.

This may or may not deter mating, depending on species, locations and other factors.

Basic plumage:

The basic plumage is generally worn during fall, winter, and early spring.

In first or hatch-year birds, it is called the first basic plumage and is not the definitive (final adult) plumage, since the feathers of the wings and tail are generally not replaced in the first prebasic molt.

These feathers retain qualities of the juvenile plumage, making birds in their first basic plumage generally distinguishable from those in their adult basic plumage.

The adult basic plumage is the definitive plumage to which adults return after every breeding season.

Juvenile passerines generally achieve the adult basic plumage by their second basic plumage.

Some non passerines (gulls, eagles) and some passerines (orioles, manakins) take more than 2 years to reach the definitive plumage.

Prealternate molt:

In some birds, the prebasic molt is the only molt that occurs annually; thus, breeding occurs in the basic plumage for these species (American Robin and the woodpeckers).

In most passerines, the prealternate molt causes the replacement of the basic plumage with the alternate plumage during winter or spring.

In hatch-year birds, it is called the first prealternate molt and results in the first alternate plumage.

In adults, it is referred to as the adult prealternate molt and results in the adult prealternate plumage.

Prealternate molts are generally partial,though the extent of the prealternate molt varies substantially among species and between sexes.

Alternate plumage. In adults, the alternate plumage is referred to as the adult alternate plumage, whereas in hatch-year birds, it is the first alternate plumage.

In many passerines, the adult alternate plumages of males differ from their adult basic plumages, whereas in females, both plumages are similar.

Birds in their first alternate plumage are generally duller than those in the adult alternate plumage.

There are two kinds of molts with different degrees of feather replacement.

In a complete molt all feathers are replaced.

In a partial molt only some feathers are replaced.

It takes a lot of energy to build new feathers.

Molting is, therefore, often timed to coincide with periods of less strenuous demands, such as after nesting or before migration.

Still, some birds molt during migration.

Some birds molt after migration.

Some birds start and stop during migration.

There is no definite time for molting.

Molting, like migration takes place all through the calendar year.

Indeed, it may take a Bald eagle a few years to finish a single molt cycle, only to start all over again .

It take 5 years and a series of molts to reach adult plumage.

How often do birds molt?

This varies by species, but almost all birds fall into one of the following three categories.

Many species have one complete molt per year.

These include:

Chickadees, Flycatchers, Hawks, Hummingbirds, Jays, Swallows, Thrushes, Vireos, Woodpeckers and Owls

Some species have a complete molt after nesting, molting into their basic plumage.

These species then have a prenuptial molt of body feathers that results in their bright breeding plumage.

Species with this molt pattern include: Buntings, Tanagers, Warblers and American Goldfinches.

While females of these species usually look very similar on a year-round basis, they do go through a partial prenuptial molt and can be described as being in alternate plumage for part of the year.

The male American goldfinch undergoes a complete molt in the late summer/fall that results in a drab olive green to dull brownish/yellow bird with typical goldfinch wings.

In spring the male American goldfinch undergoes a partial molt, including the body feathers. The new body feathers are a brilliant rich canary yellow color.

Some species undergo two complete molts each year.

Bobolinks for example, go throuth two complete molts.

After breeding all the feathers are molted and the male looks very much like the female.

Often confusing bird watchers.

For spring or mating, he goes through another complete molt to get his beautiful black and white 'Bobolink' colors once again.

Some species acquire their adult plumage in a single year.

Others require up to five years (eagles) to reach full adult plumage.

Gulls are often broken into categories such as a "three-year gull" or "four year gull," based on how long it takes the bird to reach full adult plumage.

Some birds of a same species will start molting earlier and others later.

Still other birds like waterfowl have some different molting schedules all together.

Molting patterns vary by:


Individual birds of the same species.

From year-to-year.

By individual feathers.

Next week I'll go over a few basics and add some more to it.

I'll write a short bit on certain species like hummingbirds, swallows, loons and a few other birds that our 'Creator' has given special adaptations and schedules to molting.

What to offer birds at your feeders and why.

Interesting or not, you now have a basic understanding of molting.

Well, it is time to fly for now.

Before I go, here is your weekly positive thought for the week.

God Bless.

He who finds diamonds must grapple in mud and mire because diamonds are not found in polished stones. They are made.

Henry B. Wilson

So it goes for you and me as well.

We aren't born to greatness, it is made.

Years and years of constant development and follow up makes us who we are (good or bad).

What is nice.......................

It is never to late for you and me.

We can decide right now to be a better person (become a diamond).

Then we must act on it.

You can decide right now to forgive.

To be more loving.

To be happy.

To smile more.

To do some things you always wanted to do.

You get the idea.

Polish off the doubts and fears.

Remove the naysayers from your life if that is what it takes.

God gave you a spirit and mind to think and to be strong.

Often the world beats us down, but we can choose right now.

You choose not to listen to negative thoughts.

Choose to be a diamond.

You can start today by choosing the right thoughts and using the right tools.

It is never to late to improve.

Now that is worth a huge smile.

Come up out of the muck and mire.

A little polish and you become a diamond.

At least a diamond in the rough.

Smile my friend and be sure to share your smiles and love.

It's all part of the diamond process.

Until next time.

"Treat the earth well:

It was not given to you by your parents,

It was loaned to you by your children.

We do not inherit the Earth from our

Ancestors, we borrow it from our Children."

Ancient Indian Proverb

Your friend indeed,

Ron Patterson

PS. If you enjoy these letters, please forward them to friends, family and co-workers.

Better yet, have them sign up so they can receive their own letters.

Gardening For Wildlife.

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