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Wade Kammin captured this bald cardinal at his feeders this summer. Photo courtesy of Wade Kammin.

Yikes! Bald cardinals turn heads

August 10, 2013 at 12:05 PM

The State Journal-Register

All birds go through a post-breeding season molt (where they replace old worn feathers with new ones), but some cardinals and blue jays tend to take it to the extreme.

So far, I’ve received two pictures of “bald cardinals” in the past week or so.

Normally, birds replace their feathers gradually, but these cardinals appear to have few or no feathers on their heads.

“I have been watching this miter-less cardinal (just a name I’m calling it) for quite some time and on July 25, I was finally able to capture it with my camera,” said Fred Fliege.

Fred Fliege captured this "miter-less" cardinal in his backyard. Photo courtesy of Fred Fliege.

A mitre, or miter, is the ceremonial headpiece worn by Catholic bishops.

Hats off to Fliege for coming up with a very official-sounding name for the cardinal’s condition.

Wade Kammin, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited, 1930 S. MacArthur Blvd. also sent in a picture of a cardinal minus its crest and most of its head feathers.

“Here’s the bald cardinal that has been visiting my feeders,” Kammin writes. “A real beauty, isn’t he?”

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, participants in its Project FeederWatch program occasionally report cardinals or blue jays that are partially or completely bald.

Cardinals and blue jays both have feather crests on their heads.

The exact cause is not known, but Cornell says the condition likely is a combination of the summer molt and mites that have exacerbated the condition.

The head is one place the birds cannot preen or clear of mites and other parasites.

Another possibility is the birds are juveniles undergoing their first molt. Environmental or nutritional factors also may play a part.

There is little research on the subject, but apparently there is no cause for alarm. The feathers grow back in a few weeks.

If you are interested in helping improve our understanding of birds, their ranges and behaviors, consider joining Project FeederWatch. Visit:

Chris Young can be reached at 788-1528 or .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow him at

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