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Birds and Molting Part II
October 05, 2009

October came in with the first killing frost of the season (though not enough to kill off everything).

Thursday, October 1st. was a wonderful day.

It also blessed us with a late season visitor that was passing through.

I hadn't seen a hummer for a few days, but this one came flying in and fed off the Salvia and Butterfly bush.

Yes, choosing to ignore the feeders all together.

She hung out for the day, but no sightings since.

That said, be sure to keep your feeders cleaned and filled for at least 2 weeks after your last sighting.

All to often we get ahead of ourselves and want to pack things away for the season.

Please show some patience on this one.

My southern friends, be sure to take care of my little birds as they pass through.

October 1st. also gave us a cool and crisp, yet a nice sunny sky that allowed me to get a lot of outside work done.

A person can get a lot accomplished on days like that.

There were plants to move and some to cut back.

Dead veggies to remove and a few things to pamper and squeeze a few more days out of them.

Face it, I'm not ready to lose everything all at once.

Four months of work and growth gone in a single night?

Besides, the hot peppers still have some work to do.

You never know who may stop by and you may just be a life saver.

Yes, the cool summer put many things behind a few weeks.

This time of year, when you are out and about, make sure to keep one ear to the sky.

You never know what you may hear and this time of year is Sandhill crane migration.

I ran to the door, kicked off the muddy boots and grabbed the camera and was able to take a couple of pictures.

I'm not use to carrying a camera with me all the time.

These birds are high fliers and about the only way to find them is to hear them first.

Flock after flock flew over last Thursday when I was out in the yard.

Other than Thursday, much of this past weekend was a dreary and wet one and the up coming week doesn't hold a lot of promise for outdoor weather.

I'm a couple of days behind, but the first of the month also means it is time to clean up all your feeders and water features.

Give them a good scrubbing and sanitizing.

If you don't have the time for that, take a spray bottle and spray them down with rubbing alcohol.

It evaporates quickly and leave no residue behind.

This is something that should be done at least once a month and I pick the first of the month as an easy reminder on the to do list.

I spotted this fledged American goldfinch this past week (my apologies for not cropping the pictures).

I knew it was a youngster, as it was still calling to be fed.

It was a pretty good close up, but when it turned its head, this is what I saw.

As you can tell by the eye it is a sick little bird and will never make it to winter.

From my vantage point it appears to be Conjunctivitis.

Could be a rough winter for some species of birds.

Did you plant you Amaryllis bulbs in the garden this spring?

If so, it is time to dig them up if you haven't by now.

Here is what to do.

Leave the green foliage on and dig the bulbs.

Rinse off the dirt and allow to air dry for a few days.

Now keep the foliage on, so the bulb can go dormant naturally and the foliage still feeds the bulb.

Your Amaryllis must be dormant for at least 30 days before you pot it up again for Christmas or when ever and this should give you plenty of time.

Because I pot them to bloom in February and March, I have plenty of rest time for my bulbs.

While birds are busy congregating, others are becoming more frequent visitors once again.

Small flocks of Black-capped chickadees are regulars now.

At least one pair of White breasted nuthatches visit daily as do a couple of Downy woodpeckers.

On occasion, I will spot a White-crowned sparrow.

I am still waiting for them to show in masses as they do every year.

These sparrows will stay for a couple of weeks and head a bit further south for the winter as the leave their Northern Canada and Arctic breeding grounds behind.

Northern cardinals are back and in all there glory once again.

You may notice, that many of your local birds have a nice new shinny wardrobe.

Next week's letter will be your fall favorites.

There is still time to get your favorite things about fall published.

Just reply back to me with your vitals.

I could use your help folks, or this will be a small batch.

Okay, so here is Part II on migration.


Most backyard feeder birds molt from July-September although some may molt through December.

Still, others molt during migration and still others may start and stop before and during migration.

Last week I went into some detail on molting, new readers can look at the archives to read this.

Until then, here is a brief recap.

Molting is the process by which a bird replaces its feathers.

When a bird replaces all of the feathers on its body, it is described as a full molt.

A partial molt may occur between full molts for some species of birds as they replace only a portion of their feathers.

An example of a partial molt is when American Goldfinch obtain their bright breeding plumage by replacing only their body feathers each spring.

Their body plumage, flight and tail feathers are all replaced during a full molt each fall.

Most backyard feeder birds molt from July-September. Some molt through October like Downy Woodpeckers, Mourning Doves and Eastern Bluebirds.

American and Lesser Goldfinches can molt through December.

Typically, birds molt feathers in regular patterns or on specific parts of their bodies, and it may take weeks or months for birds to complete the molting cycle.

For a bald eagle, it takes years.

Development of Feathers and Follicles:

Most adult birds are covered with feathers except on the beak, eyes, and feet.

The contour feathers are arranged in rows and groups of follicles.

A follicle ordinarily produces a series of feathers during a bird's life.

If the bird molts, the new feather pushes out the old one.

If a feather is lost some other way, the follicle replaces it immediately or at the next molt, depending on the time of the next molt, the health of the bird, its reproductive state, etc.

A new feather can be grown in two weeks but it depends on the species of bird, time of year, and type of feather.

The number of feathers is relatively constant within a species although they tend to have more feathers in the winter than in the summer.

Smaller birds tend to have more feathers per area than larger birds although fewer feathers total.

For example:

A Ruby-throated Hummingbird- 940 feathers,

A Canada Goose 33,000.

American Goldfinches change all their feathers in the fall and just the body feathers in the spring where the male becomes a bright yellow Ė the better to attract mates.

Coastal Lesser Goldfinches perform a full molt in the fall and some perform a body molt in the spring.

Interior Lesser Goldfinches perform a full molt twice a year: spring and fall.

Hummingbirds start their molt during migration as do Barn swallows and the swallow family in general.

Swallows get an early start on migration.

Hummers often have that late brood so they begin migration and molt around the same time.

Sandhill cranes molt during and after migration.

Common loons molt after migration because of their weight and build, they need every feather possible for flight.

Water fowl go through a molt right after nesting, rendering them flightless for a period of time.

Often ducks, geese and swans will hideout in swamps, marshes or even in open water where they are somewhat protected.

Male ducks often look like females until they go through still another molt in the fall that brings back the male colors (going on now).

I'm getting worn out just thinking of it all.

There really is no easy time in a bird's life.

By now, you are getting the idea that there isn't a set time for molting.

Indeed, it is a year round process.

Some species, somewhere is molting.

Protein is essential for growing strong feathers.

Fats are essential for feather coloration.

Every molting bird needs extra proteins to grow strong feathers for proper flight and effective insulation.

They need extra fats for energy to grow feathers and provide proper coloration to best attract a mate.

Feathers are 91% protein,( primarily keratins) 1.3% fat and 7.7% water.

A birdís feathers contain 25% of the total protein found within its entire body.

It takes extra energy to grow feathers and also the right building blocks to grow them.

The main ingredients in growing feathers are amino acids (protein) and lipids (fats).

Birds will eat more of their daily diet and / or seek out foods high in protein and fat to satisfy both the extra energy requirements and the needed building blocks.

Lipids are substances such as a fat, oil or wax (usually from tree fruits).

Dietary lipids supply energy, essential fatty acids and pigments for birds.

Like pigment dyes that are used to color our clothes, colors in feathers come from different pigments found in lipids.

Red, orange, and yellows to violet colors = Carotenoid pigments

Black, brown, gray and related tints = Melanin and porphyrin pigments

Blue and white colors = Not created by pigments but by reflections of light off the structural elements of a feather

Greens = Carotenoid and melanin pigments combined with structural feather elements

In many bird species, carotenoids are required for breeding success...poorly colored birds are less likely to breed.

Carotenoids help communicate reproductive fitness to prospective mates by providing a vibrant and bright plumage.

A sign of being successful at obtaining both a sufficient quality and quantity of food.

The more color and more brightly colored a male House Finch the greater the likelihood of attracting a mate.

A male Red-winged Blackbirdís dominance depends on his bright red shoulder epaulettes being bigger than another maleís.

The larger the red epaulet patch, the better he can defend a territory and attract multiple mates.

A diet low in proteins and fats may cause feathers to be improperly colored or form defectively such as being frayed or curved.

If their colors are duller birds may have trouble attracting a mate.

If the feathers are defective, it could seriously hinder their flying or insulation abilities.

Birds will eat more of their daily diet and/or seek out foods high in protein and fat to satisfy the extra energy requirements and the needed building blocks to grow feathers.

Here is some of the nutritional information on foods:

Peanuts - 90 protein calories

Nyjer - 84 protein calories

Choice Blend - 71 protein calories

Sunflower chips - 70 protein calories

No-mess Blend - 68 protein calories

Supreme Blend - 68 protein calories (per 100 grams, 3.5 oz. or about 1/2 cup)

Sunflower Chips - 429 fat calories

Peanuts - 412 fat calories

No-mess Blend - 351 fat calories

Choice Blend - 350 fat calories

Nyjer - 342 fat calories

Supreme Blend - 332 fat calories (per 100 grams, 3.5 oz. or about 1/2 cup)

Offer your birds what they want and need.

As you can see by the above list, Peanuts, sunflower and Nyjer are high on every list.

I will add suets to that list as well.

Offer what birds want and need and you will be blessed by a nice variety of birds.

Offer the cheap stuff and grocery store blends and I will have your birds.

Well, it's time to fly for now.

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

Few things help an individual more than to place responsibility upon him and to let him know that you trust him.

Booker T. Washington

Booker T Washington, a class act, a wonderful human being and in a time period when many things were against him.

Booker was a well educated and in many ways, a self made man.

He understood, he knew certain things and understood them.

Not all cases, but in most cases, his above quote rings true.

To place a responsibility on an individual (especially without pay) says a lot.

It shows that you believe in them and trust that person.


A troubled person



It is true that most people will perform well enough and often beyond expectations, because they don't want to let you or the person down, that showed faith in them.

Many will do such a good job, because you showed a trust and a belief that no one else ever showed in them before.

You gave them an opportunity that no one else would give them.

You allowed them to excel or fail and most people will show that they can get it done.

They will show you, but more important, they will prove it to themselves and others that they can get it done.

Sometimes that is all we need.

Often, that is all another person needs.

An opportunity at responsibility.

Someone to show trust and faith.

Oh yeah, a heart grows.

You may have a new best friend.

Sure, there are people out there that will take advantage of you or a situation, but I think they are the minority.

I believe most people are looking for that chance to prove to themselves and to show others that they too, are a good person.

Some people just need to be given that chance.

You may be surprised at the success when giving another the chance at responsibility.

Think back to the times when you were shot down because of your age, color, gender, size, age, or something else.

I didn't feel good did it.

Think back to when you were given chances at responsibilities.

Did you bend over backwards to do a good job?

Did you want to show a parent, employer, coach or someone else that you could do it?

You could get the job done

You could be trusted.

Do you remember how good it felt when you succeeded and maybe, just maybe....................

Someone said 'Good Job', well done.

You said 'Thank You.'

Do remember how good that made you feel?

Try giving some responsibility to another and stand back.

This is almost as good as sharing a smile.

Why not..............................

Share a smile too.

Share it with a stranger.

Share the responsibility of smiles.

You may be surprised when a smile comes back your way.

Then again...................................

You know it will come back your way.

God works that way too.

Until next time my friend.

"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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