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