Molting Bluebirds

Western Bluebird in Spring, Pt. Reyes, CA

Bluebird, April, full plumage, Pt. Reyes

A bird’s natural process of seasonal molting can be confusing for birders and frustrating for photographers.  The birds take on a very different look, something less than perfect.


It’s a similar process to a snake shedding its skin, mammals losing hair, or insects outgrowing their exoskeleton.


As one feather comes out, a new one grows in.  Birds usually lose a few feathers at a time so they can still fly, but this is not always the case.  It is cyclical and variable, depending on the species and other factors.  To read more about molting click here.


As a good example, the bird photographed here is the same species (western bluebird) in the same area (Pierce Point) in the same park (Point Reyes National Seashore, Calif.) at different times of the year.  You can see how different they look.

Western Bluebird, late August, molting, Pt. Reyes, CA

Bluebird, late August, molting, Calif.


Two of my blogging friends recently published informative posts and photos about molting too: Avian 101 and Birder’s Journey.


On my morning walks at this time of year I almost always find at least one feather on the ground.  I used to collect them, but then I just had a jar full of fading feathers.  Now I leave most of them on the ground and see them on the next walk, or I bring in the really pretty ones and enjoy them for a week or so.


Western bluebird, late August, molting, Pt. Reyes, CA

Bluebird, late August, molting, Calif.

I have a handsome feather next to my desk right now, I found it a few weeks ago.  I think it’s from an acorn woodpecker, because he or she frequents the area where I found it.  The top half is black, the bottom half is white.


It reminds me that the nature of life is ever-changing.


Photo credit:  Athena Alexander




55 thoughts on “Molting Bluebirds

    • Thanks so much for your kind comment. The photos on my posts are courtesy of Athena Alexander. She used a Canon 7D camera with a Canon 100-400 5.6 zoom lens for these bluebird photos. 😀

    • Yes, it’s a shame how domesticated cats can impair or even kill birds. But usually a feather here or there, espec. in the late summer, usually means molting and not mutilation. Glad I could give your day a break, Jan — really appreciate your comment and visit. 😀

    • Even though the post was about molting bluebirds, the perfect non-molting beauty did seem a good way to begin. Very glad you enjoyed the post, Amy, and as always, appreciate your visit today. Have a fun weekend! 😀

  1. Oh my gosh,dear Jet!What a differene the molding process brings!The way you have juxtaposed the images of the same bird clearly shows the big transformation!I so much like the first photo of this little beauty.The deep blue feathers above and the orangish part on the breast are so clearly shown!
    As for the black & white feather,you keep near your desk,it reminds me of the age-old quills and if you put an ink bottle next to it,it will be a good symbol for a writer like you!I don’t know why,but,I have connected the quill pens with intellectual people.Btw,you said above that some moulted-feathers you had collected faded.I’ve had a beautiful peacock feather for years now and the colours are still so natural and vibrant.I had found it in a Park with 7 springs in Rhodes,where there are many Peafowls proudly rambling around free.Hope you & Athena have a lovely day 🙂 xxx

    • I like that you mention quill pens here, dear Doda, because it is a good reminder of how feathers have been decorations for centuries. (I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s better these days when people don’t ruin the bird as much as in yesteryear when birds were destroyed for feather coats and hats.) And oh how marvelous to find a peacock feather in Rhodes, I’m glad it remains vibrant. I appreciate your visit and time in enjoying today’s post, and your enthusiasm is such a treasure. 😀 😀

      • Absolutely,dear Jet!I agree with you because I so much love all living creatures on our planet,but let me be romantic,let me live in my illusionary world where I think that they used ONLY molted feathers for all the purposes you mentioned … Besides,yours is a molted one,it came to your hands after the “ecdysis”of a beautiful woodpecker,so buy an ink bottle and don’t feel guilty lol … 🙂 xxx ☀

      • I laughed and laughed and laughed at this. As a fiction writer I spend a lot of time in illusionary worlds, so I’m with you in thinking quill feathers were the molted feathers. Oh dear Doda, thanks for this lovely exchange today. 😀 😀

  2. Just came back from the suggested links,I was astonished to read that the molding happens symmetrically!Isn’t it magnificent ? Even here nature shows us how wisely it works …
    As for the beautiful Cardinal,I was shocked to see him on the process of molting.Thanks dear friend 🙂

    • How very wonderful that you enjoyed all the links, Doda. Yes, sometimes it can be a bit shocking to see some of the world’s beauties, like a cardinal, so tattered — and yet, yes, how very magnificent that the molting happens symmetrically. Always a pleasure, dear Doda — thank you. 🙂

  3. This is interesting Jet, I had no idea the birds change their feathers seasonally. Great info and perhaps that’s the best time to collect their feathers 🙂 Beautiful images!! Have a wonderful weekend!

    • I’m delighted to have shared this info with you, Indah — you always have such interesting info to share about fish and the sea, I am glad I could reciprocate. Have fun this weekend! 😀

  4. Amazing photographs! I don’t know, may be it is not that visible, or may be I don’t see any bright colored birds around here… but the best example I know is a peacock 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Inese — Molting occurs in ducks, raptors, and just about any kind of bird, not just songbirds or bright birds. It’s possible you just haven’t been aware of this phenomenon, and therefore haven’t seen it. Maybe you’ll notice it now that you know about it. I hope so! Many thanks — and have a great weekend. 😀

      • Hi! I know about molting, of course 🙂 I just want to say that I can see it clearly when a bird is bright colored, otherwise it goes almost unnoticed except that the birds look a little like they have been plucked 🙂 The bright colored birds look more pathetic when molting occurs. Good it lasts just a couple of weeks. 🙂
        Molting in reptiles is more complicated since they can even lose their toes, as did my friend’s water dragon 😦

  5. Jet I can hardly believe the difference in colors! Yes I imagine as a birder there could be great disappointment in finding the bird only to realize it was the wrong time of year. Drat bad travel planning. 🙂

    • It’s the photography that is so difficult, because they’re just not very photogenic. lol. In fact a few wks ago when we were at Pt. Reyes she couldn’t believe her ears when I asked her to take photos of the molting bluebirds. Thanks so very much, dear Sue. 😀

  6. It is like they are changing old for new Jet….. dropping feathers like calling cards and flying off to the song ….’ the only way is up’….. (such a lovely post. I am singing here! thank youxxx)

    • Thanks so much, Kirt. The molting birds we don’t often photograph either, but I thought it was a good reminder of the many stages of life we all go through. I am so happy you found it fascinating, and appreciate your visit, as always. 😀

  7. Wonderful photographs, and such an informative post and set of follow up comments.
    I have to report that this particular mammal has been shedding hair up top in recent years, only with no sign it’ll grow back…oh well.

    • I am sure this particular mammal is relieved to know that it is a natural phenomenon. lol. Thanks so much for stopping by, pc, your comment has me smiling broadly at this moment. 😀 😀

  8. Thanks for another interesting and informative post, Jet. I never really thought about birds molting before and coincidentally only just read about it recently, so your post is timely. I too have a small feather collection, mostly of duck and magpie feathers from the city parks. But I love them—such intricate design and incredible beauty. I often marvel at the perfection of the symmetry. Admiring one or holding one in my hand never fails to make me feel good. Nature is so ingenious. Have a great week ahead! :))

    • Feathers are quite fascinating, yes, with intricate designs and beauty. Some are symmetrical, some are asymmetrical depending on the bird and where the feather originates on the bird. I’m delighted you enjoyed the post, Jeannie, and that it was good timing for what you had recently read. I thank you so very much. 😀

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