Ever have a bad hair day? This time of year, many wild birds start looking a bit shabby.Feathers don't last forever and wear out over time. When the demands of breeding season have passed, birds turn their physical energies towards growing a new set of feathers in a process called molting.During molting, old and damaged feathers are slowly lost and new ones grow to take their place. Some birds molt only once in the late summer or fall while others will molt a second time in spring to acquire their brighter mating colors.Feathers first begin to fall out at the crest of the head and then progressively move towards the tail. The entire process may last anywhere from a few weeks to months.Since feather replacement is gradual, a bird will never be totally bald. However, birds may appear to have small bald patches, especially male cardinals and blue jays whose vibrant colors and prominent crests make missing feathers more noticeable.Because of their disheveled appearance, it's easy to mistake a molting bird for a sick bird. Be assured that feather loss is normal for this time of year. Before fall migration begins, the re-feathering process will be complete and the birds will have beautiful new plumage to carry them through the winter.
Hummers of summer
Ruby-throated hummingbirds will soon begin their fall migration to South America. But before they go, you can enjoy a final feeding frenzy. With breeding season over, hummingbirds can now concentrate all their time and energies on feeding. Activity also increases at feeders as hummingbirds that summered in more northern locales begin to "stop over" in our area to rest and feed before continuing their southern journey.To enjoy this final burst of hummingbird activity, keep sugar-water feeders full of fresh nectar. With the continued hot temperatures, nectar should be replaced every two to three days to avoid spoilage, which can make hummingbirds sick.
Among the frequent wild visitors to my Chapel Hill backyard is a pair of Eastern cottontail rabbits. They often scavenge for dropped sunflower seeds below the bird feeders.Cottontails are herbivores and eat a variety of plants such as grasses, vegetables and fruits. Much to my consternation, they also love chowing down on the tender flowers in my garden.Cottontails are nocturnal, so you'll most likely see them during the early-morning or late-evening hours.True to popular belief, cottontails are prolific breeders. They mate from February to September and will produce three to four litters during that time. Litters contain an average of five babies, though births of up to 10 babies are possible.The best way to attract cottontails is by growing the type of natural habitat they like: bushy shrubs and tall grasses. Some of their favorite food plants are clover, dandelion and goldenrod.If you want to entice cottontails into closer view, it's OK to offer an occasional treat such as grapes or apples. However, as a general rule, it is best not to regularly offer supplemental food to wild mammals as this can lead them to become overly adapted to humans.