Back to Back Issues Page
Gardening For Wildlife, #30 Feathers Part II
September 04, 2007

The unofficial end of summer went by without fanfare.

The weather was ideal the past several days, mostly sunny, low humidity with temperatures hanging around 80 degrees.

Yes, school starts up here this week for most children.

How prophetic for the temperatures to rise to the upper 80's. You know, it seems to happen most years.

Kids go back to school and the temps rise.

That is warm for Michigan this time of year.

I forgot..............

We are grand parents for the fourth time.

A grandson weighing in at 8 lbs., 12 oz.

born August 21.

One thing nice about the low humidity is the chance to have windows open.


Fresh air and all the sounds of late August and September.

Give yourself the chance to observe the sights and sounds of late summer.

If you have some experience, you will even feel a difference.

Yes, the air has a different feel and smell to it.

The sun beats lower on us Northern folk and I'm sure is more directly over head in the deep south by now.

Listen to the sounds of crickets and katydids.

Insects you wont hear from in spring and early summer.

Keet and I saw a couple of deer last night on our walk.

The goldenrod is in full bloom now as it paints a bright yellow hue over the open fields and meadow.

An interesting tidbit on goldenrod.

Back in the American Revolution days when they were throwing the Boston tea party, the guys got carried away and threw all the tea into the Boston Harbor.

Well, after the party, they realized there wasn't any tea left.

Well, wouldn't you know that these resourceful Patriots made a tea out of Goldenrod.

So tasty was the home brew that for a time "Goldenrod Tea" was exported to China.

Another bit of info.

Many people also believe that allergies kick up because of goldenrod pollen.

Well, goldenrod pollen is not an airborne pollen, though it takes the blame often.

Ragweed which blooms the same time does have pollen which becomes airborne and is torture on allergy sufferers.

I am redundant here, but what more can bee said about all of the American goldfinches.

You may have fewer visits from cardinals and other birds this time of year.

Some birds are going through molt.

Molting takes time and energy.

Your birds may look a bit rough or you may not see much of them at all.

Many birds seem to go into hiding during molt.

It could be for protection reasons as birds aren't running at peak efficiency.

Yet, some believe birds are a bit embarrassed by the haggard look.

Either way, your birds will soon appear in a nice, new, shiny coat of feathers.


Nice segway huh?

Molts and Plumage

Bird feathers do wear out, so once or twice a year birds shed their old feathers and grow new ones.

This process is called molting (you knew that).

Most birds will molt in late summer or Autumn, after they've raised a family or three and before they migrate to their winter homes.

New feathers growing in push out the old one.

Birds don't lose all their feathers at once.

Molting takes weeks for small birds like chickadees and finches.

Eagles and other large birds take much longer.

Up to two years to replace their feathery coat.

Some birds molt flight feathers at a different time than body feathers.

These birds may have several ages of feathers at once.

Most birds will molt only one wing feather at a time so they can maintain balance in flight.

Many ducks and geese molt all flight feathers at once, so they are unable to fly and vulnerable for several weeks.

This is where the saying comes from "Like a sitting duck."

Until new feathers grow, they avoid predators by swimming away or trying to hide.

Several birds like the Goldfinch and Common Loon molt twice a year.

In late winter or early spring males will return to their bright mating plumage.

After raising families, they will molt again to their non breeding or winter colors.


Bird feathers come in all colors of the rainbow.

Colors are produced by pigments within the feathers or light-reflecting structures on its surface.

An American Goldfinch's bright yellow is a true color.

Grind up the yellow feathers and you will have a tiny pile of yellow dust.

But, if you did the same thing with a Blue Jay feather, you would have a small pile of gray residue.


Because the Jay's blue is a trick of light bouncing off the cells on the feather surface.

Iridescent colors, such as a male hummingbird's brilliant throat patch (gorget), are also caused by feather structure.

An example is a male Ruby-throated hummer.

Depending how the light is hitting him, the gorget may look black, purple or the signature ruby red.

Those iridescent feathers have several layers of bubble-like cells that reflect light as a soap bubble does.

These colors shift as your point of view changes.

A bird's view of color is much different than ours.

Researchers are finding that birds can see ultraviolet light (not just birds of prey).

Many birds have patches of feathers that reflect ultraviolet light.

What we may see as a flock of Chickadees or Blue jays all looking the same, the birds see a flock of boys and girls.

Birds that look alike to us may have colorful patches that helps a female choose a healthy mate.

Research continues all the time.

Feathers are just one of God's marvels in biological engineering.

With all the jobs they perform, feathers form the most versatile outer coat in the animal kingdom.

Here Are A Few Fun Facts

Birds can survive just about anywhere because of feathers.

Birds survive extreme cold and heat because of their high internal temperature, ranging from 105 to 108 degrees depending on the species. A bird's feathers help to maintain its body temperature.

Feather color may come from the food a bird eats or reflection of light.

Birds are clean creatures; they spend much of each day bathing and grooming.

Molting takes a lot of energy, so most birds molt after mating season.

Small birds have small and fewer feathers than large birds. A hummingbird for example, has about 950 feathers, while a swan has about 25,000 feathers.

Some birds grow more feathers to help them beat the cold of winter. The House sparrow, for example has about 3,100 feathers in June and about 3.500 in January.

Just another reason why House sparrows are so resilient.

Feathers are beautiful.

Even inspiring.

But, the "National Migratory Bird Act" says that only birds are allowed to possess them.

Exceptions are made for education and research purposes.

Also introduced species and game bird feathers are allowed.

In North America, the American Indian still use feathers in their religious and cultural practices.

I don't think the feather police will come and get you, and what child hasn't picked up a feather or two.


Get caught with any feathers, feet, or any part of a bird of prey.

Penalties and stiff fines will be in order.

It is nice to see so many hummers this year.

The last two springs there seemed to be fewer hummers and Hurricane Katrina Got the blame.

Fewer plants and feeders were up for the fall migration 2 years ago and things weren't much better the following spring.

Well, hummers seemed to have made a strong come back this year.

Much can be said about ideal weather conditions this past spring and summer.

Around here we had above normal temps. and below normal rain.

Natural food supplies were diminished because of the weather, but conditions for raising a family ski-rocketed.

Keep your feeders filled

Offer a sprinkler bath for your little guests.

We watched a couple of them bathe for several minutes Sunday afternoon.

Be sure to read on hummers migrating South.

It is much different than when they are coming North.

Hummers migrating South take their time.

Enjoy them while we can.

Well, it's time to fly.

As always..............


And make it a pretty one.

Share it with a stranger this week.

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: Feel free to forward this to friends and family or send them to so they can register to recieve their free copies.

Gardening For Wildlife.

Back to Back Issues Page