Although that bald-headed blue chook at your feeder this time of yr might look a bit odd, consultants say it’s nothing out of the abnormal.
The chook is a standard Northern blue jay. For many of the yr this Maine songbird will be simply acknowledged by its intense blue physique with white and black higher physique, grey underbody, black ring across the neck and the perky crest on its head.
However come fall, that crest vanishes leaving the jay wanting a bit worse for put on.
That is the time of yr that many species of songbirds in Maine are molting — eliminating their outdated feathers to make room for brand spanking new ones to develop. For many of those birds they lose the feathers a number of at a time. However the Northern blue jay loses all of its head feathers directly. It’s pure and never a sign of an unhealthy chook.
Molting takes a variety of a chook’s power, mentioned Doug Hitchcox, naturalist at Maine Audubon. That’s why most of them do it a number of and even separately. They will do that as a result of every feather, or assortment of feathers grows out of particular person patches of pores and skin. These are referred to as feather tracts.
“All the physique feathers and flight feathers on the wing and tail can take a very long time to develop again in,” Hitchcox mentioned. “The entire course of can take 100 to 120 days, particularly for one of many bigger birds just like the blue jay.”
It’s a sluggish course of, however one which saves the chook from having all of its feathers falling out directly. That, Hitchcox mentioned, would go away it flightless and uncovered to the weather.
Sadly for the blue jay — at the very least when it comes to look — all of its head feathers develop from a single tract. So when one falls out, all of them fall out, leaving it quickly bald. This additionally occurs with cardinals, however is much much less frequent.
“With the blue jay, the pinnacle feathers are referred to as the capital tract,” Hitchcox mentioned. “There may be actually no different place on the physique you’d wish to lose all of your feathers.”
He mentioned this time of yr Audubon receives stories concerning the bald blue jays that individuals concern are sick.
Whereas it’s regular for this time of yr in addition to in late summer season, seeing a balding chook in spring or early summer season is usually a signal of one thing else.
“The opposite factor that may trigger baldness are feather mites,” Hitchox mentioned. “These mites truly eat the feathers off the birds.”
The mites will consider the chook’s head as a result of it’s unable to preen or clear itself there. In contrast to molting, the feather loss sample attributable to mites is splotchy or patchy.
Not each bluejay will undergo the total head molt, so you could by no means see a bald one. However if you do, it will possibly make an impression, Hitchcox mentioned.
“We all know from analysis that trendy birds are the closest factor we’ve to dinosaurs,” he mentioned. “A bald blue jay actually has that stereotypical dinosaur look.”