May 21, 2024


Originally posted July 2013; up to date May 2021.

In the canine days of summer time, birds appear to vanish—the daybreak refrain wanes and an odd silence takes maintain in woodlands. Many birds look bedraggled, not sporting their vibrant breeding colours. A number of birders hold up their binoculars till fall migration. (July and August are usually the 2 lowest months for eBird guidelines submissions.)

But there’s no purpose to cease birding. The birds are nonetheless there, they’re simply protecting a low profile, as a result of they’re changing their feathers. Knowing what’s happening within the post-breeding lives of birds may help you retain discovering species late into the summer time.

Silent Summer

Birds sing for 2 primary causes: to draw a mate and to defend a territory. By July, many child birds in North America have fledged, and even birds which have a number of nests per yr have completed by early August.

Some birds might proceed singing for some time to assist their younger be taught their native track dialect. But many birds, reminiscent of American Robins and Red-winged Blackbirds, cease holding territories and begin to be part of flocks—and territorial singing simply isn’t appropriate with flocking. One by one, every species drops out of the morning refrain.

Lying Low During Molt

After breeding, the molting season kicks in, heralding main modifications in each the looks and habits of birds. Molt is the systematic substitute of feathers. All birds do it—from hummingbirds to penguins. They need to molt with a purpose to survive, as a result of feathers put on out from bodily abrasion and bleaching from the solar. Once a yr (within the late summer time for temperate species) birds develop a completely new set of feathers by means of an entire molt.

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As birds develop new flight feathers, they’re notably susceptible to predators. During wing molt, a number of of their flight feathers can be lower than full size, producing gaps of their wings that render them much less maneuverable and highly effective in flight. To keep away from attracting the eye of predators, many birds—reminiscent of sparrows, warblers, and thrushes—lie low, calling occasionally and hiding in vegetation.

Drakes Go Incognito

molting drake MallardPhoto by Chris Wood

Brightly coloured male geese have an additional trick to keep away from being conspicuous to predators throughout molt. Waterfowl, together with loons and grebes, lose all of their major and secondary feathers without delay, rendering them flightless for a couple of month. To assist them cover once they can’t fly, male geese develop a particular set of camouflaged feathers, known as eclipse plumage. In July, chances are you’ll discover all of the Mallards in an area park look scruffy and largely brown, like they’re all females. Shortly after their wing feathers have regrown and they’re able to fly once more, drakes will regrow their brightly coloured physique feathers.

Molting Strategies

Groups of birds make use of totally different methods to suit molt into their annual schedule. Most of jap North America’s songbirds, together with Chestnut-sided Warbler, Baltimore Oriole, and Indigo Bunting, start changing their flight and physique feathers shortly after their younger fledge. They are inclined to bear this whole molt on or close to their breeding grounds, migrating south after they’ve a brand new set of feathers.

Some songbirds in western North America, nonetheless, start their migration and fly south a bit earlier than molting. Western summers will be extraordinarily dry and desolate. Many species—together with Western Kingbird and Lazuli Bunting—head off on a partial migration to the Mexican Monsoon area (southeast Arizona, New Mexico, and northwest Mexico) to molt. The monsoon rains brings an abundance of bugs on which to feed. After molting their flight feathers, these birds proceed their migration farther south to their wintering grounds.

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Birding During Molt

Spotting molt in motion is only a matter of taking a minute to look rigorously on the feathers. Birds in heavy molt are typically scruffy general. Look for distinction between new and outdated feathers, and gaps of their wings the place outdated feathers have been dropped and new ones haven’t grown in but, like a jack-o-lantern’s gap-toothed smile. See Two Tips for Telling a Bird’s Age by Its Molt Patterns for extra on this.

With an appreciation of molting, you’ll see {that a} motley trying chook in late summer time is de facto one other unbelievable stage of a chook’s life cycle. And you’ll admire how birds put together for the lengthy journeys of their fall migration.