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If the birds in your backyard look a little spiffier or a little brighter these days, it could be because they recently underwent molting.
Nearly all birds experience some molting. Some are dramatic. The American Goldfinch completely changes its feathers twice a year with the male becoming a bright shiny yellow in spring – the better to attract mates, my dear! Most warblers, too, molt feathers all over their bodies. Some birds may molt only the feathers on their head or just tail feathers. 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.
If you are fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of birds of prey in flight during molting, you may see patterns of missing feathers in their wings.
So, why do birds do this? Because feathers tend to wear out. Particularly on birds that migrate long distances. Its nature’s way of giving birds new wings, so to speak.
Some field guides include pictures of birds in their winter coats and summer garb so you can tell the difference. But sometimes it’s not so easy to determine the species you see. Over time, as they complete their molt, they should be easier to recognize.