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Feathers Part II
October 31, 2011


A few pictures of last week's tender blooms that are no more.

Also, a picture of the last tomato harvest.

Autumn's Grand Entrance has now past its peak in most of Michigan.

In many spots, the colors were breath taking.

In some locations, there still stands a grove, or maybe a single maple tree that is jaw dropping beautiful.

Now comes the time of year that I used to dread.

The weeks of gloom.

Everything dies off,

Cloudy skies.

Days continue to grow shorter.

Snow must be around the corner.

But that was the old me.

The new me, chooses to grasp every moment.

To look for the positives that life and nature have to offer.

Sure, the hard freeze this past week finally put an end to the growing season.

Yes, I had to pluck the last tomatoes from the vines (green fried tomatoes sure are good).

Now I can finally finish with fall clean up.

I have new seasons to look forward to.

There are catalogs, dreams, and warm fires.

More time for nature walks.

Besides, there are still a few hardy bloomers like the Chocolate Eupatorium and Cimicifuga.

Hardy asters are still hanging in there as are a few Rudbeckia blooms.

Yes, I will cling to the last flower, especially when I see honey bees trying to scratch out a living.

With a more positive outlook, a whole different world opens to me.

Quick, what do you see.

A stormy ocean?

Maybe a wind swept mountain top?

Maybe something else.

Karen saw a gray and stormy sea.

I saw a wind swept mountain.

It is amazing what we often see in the clouds.

When I first noticed these clouds, I had to get home to take a picture.

Hoping they would still be in tact.

It shows me that creation and our Creator are alive, even in the clouds.

Here we are, the beginning of a new month.

That means it is time to give all of your feeding and water supplies a good, thorough cleaning and sanitizing.

Hopefully before the snow flies (for us northern folk).

Last call for cleaning out nest boxes too.

Are your bird bath heaters in working order?

What about your gardens?

Are you still watering transplants?

What about established plants as well?

Your transplants should receive at least one inch of water per week.

Yes, even if they have dropped their leaves.

Roots are still growing and need a good drink.

If you live in a drought area, Give your plants a drink on a regular basis.

Again, for the same reason as above.

Your evergreens need a regular drink as well.

A hydrated plant will survive the rigors of winter much easier than a plant that has to face the cold onslaught in a weakened condition.

I think this is the last installment on birds, migration and feathers.

Again, this is a bit lengthy.

Thank you for sticking around

Feathers Part II


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.

Notice how a male American goldfinch
often looks like a patched quilt while going through molt.

Select feathers in select locations of the body as to not impede flight.

Again, for birds like Bald eagles, it takes years to finish a molt.

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.

When 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.

(Healthy feathers are an essential part of life.)

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, and the only birds that lack down feathers.

A Canada Goose can have as many as 33,000 feathers.

Here are a few molting examples.

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.

(Leave here a juvenile and get to their winter habitats an adult.)

Sandhill cranes (above right) 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.

Thus the saying ........

"Like a sitting duck."

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 or just finishing up).

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 right now, is molting.

Another amazing thing about birds and feathers....................

They can control each one individually.

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.

(Grind up a blue feather and you have a pile of gray, not blue)

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 bird is, the greater the likelihood of attracting a mate.

For Example:

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.

Birds that eat too many fruits and berries from introduced plant species may lack the colors needed to attract a mate.

This is but one reason why it is important to plant natives for your wildlife.

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.

While natural food is best ( insects, berries and seeds ), habitat continues to shrink.

We offer food to attract birds to our yards (mostly for our own pleasure).

However, by offering birds what they want and need, you not only attract more birds, but offer up a healthy meal.

Here is some of the nutritional information on foods (bird sized servings):

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).

Fat Calories:

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 the fat 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.

When we do the best we can, we never know what miracle is wrought in our life, or in the life of another.

Helen Keller (1880-1968) American Writer

I like Helen Keller quotes.

To conquer such odds, and to become a positive force for many......

She was one special lady.

Now take it a step farther.

For I can do all things through Christ, who gives me strength.

Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

"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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