Sunday, September 13, 2009

BAD FEATHER DAY

Beauty is only skin deep…or in some cases, feather deep. At least if you’re a male cardinal caught in the embarrassing throes of an unusual molt.

The goofy-looking redbird, which could almost have been mistaken for a scarlet-plumed pigmy vulture, appeared at the feeder outside my study window yesterday morning. The light was low, but I didn’t figure I had time to change settings on the camera or grab a tripod—so I snapped a quick shot and hoped for the best. The result isn’t the best of photos, but it’s certainly sufficient to reveal the usually handsome and cocky cardinal at his decidedly unflattering worst.

I actually felt rather bad about making his portrait. Like I’d become a member of the paparazzi who lurks outside the doors of fancy hotels or gated mansions in the Hollywood Hills, shooting pictures for the tabloids of movie stars when they’re overweight, without makeup—or in the case of more than a few men—lack the masculine mental-reenforcing enhancement of a toupee.

Had I joined the ornithological version of the gutter press?

This cardinal definitely got caught away from the thicket without his hairpiece…er-r-r, featherpiece. And since the single most defining feature of a cardinal—male or female—is their crest, I can see where such a loss might lead to temporary insecurity issues. The bird did seem extra jumpy, looking nervously around before snatching a sunflower seed; and maybe, too, a little angry, put upon, as if life had treated this poor old redbird unfairly.

Well, maybe he had a point.

According to June Osborn, in her book The CardniaI, published by the University of Texas press, such a complete loss of feathers over a single area is not the norm. Usually cardinals molt via a gradual process—a few feathers from here, others from there, leaving enough plumage for protection and the power of flight.

Of course a bald pate wasn’t going to prevent this fellow from flying…but such a thorough, single-area loss was not how the change to new feathers is typically made. For a proud bird, it had to be awkward if not humiliating. I had to sympathize.

The good part is that the loss will be temporary; give it another week or two and that red-coated fellow can strut his stuff in brand new attire.

But just remember, the bad part is…I do have the picture.

42 comments:

The Weaver of Grass said...

Poor dear old cardinal - he is certainly having a bad hair (sorry feather) day isn't he. Well done you to catch it so that we can all send him our sympathies. He even has a bit of a frantic look in his eye, doesn't he?

Jain said...

"scarlet-plumed pigmy vulture," heh heh. I've seen half-naked blue jays and grackles, too.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Weaver…

Hey, I'd look frantic, and more than a bit miffed, if I got caught in public looking like that!

(I must admit, I wondered what you'd think of your near-mythical cardinal when you saw one with the peeled head of a turkey.)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jain…

Now that's interesting—cardinals, blue jays, and grackles…you couldn't pick a trio more strut-your-stuff cocky, more filled with their own handsomeness. Makes you wonder if it isn't the occasional cosmic comeuppance!

Anna said...

Lol that a bad feather day, lol.
Anna :)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Anna…

For sure. Probably apt to give this poor redbird self-image issues requiring later therapy.

Bonnie, Original Art Studio said...

It must be distressing to find yourself crestless.

I wondered if he had been in a fight and had his crest partly ripped out at the same time that he is molting.

Nice piece (and I'm not talking about your toupee)

;)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bonnie…

Crestfallen over being crestless? I'd say that about sums it up!

In the book I mentioned, the author details other cardinals with the exact same molting pattern—all the feathers around the head and neck coming off at once. Not pretty; not common. But probably not coming with bragging rights to having been in a fight, either. Another blow to his redbird masculinity.

Finally, no toupee here…

Bernie said...

Grizz I hate to admit it but I have had the same kind of days as your red cardinal.....and if you took and posted my picture you just might of needed a toupee..LOL Seriosly I feel badly for that beautiful bird and was glad you understood and had compassion for him.......:-) Hugs

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Bernie…

No way I believe you've ever looked as bedraggled as that cardinal! A bad hair day? Sure. Days when the makeup looked like it was applied by Bozo the clown? Uh, maybe.

But I assure you, that was an axe-whupped UGLY redbird! And when he glared at me through the window, I told him so…and snapped his picture. How's that for compassion? :-))))

Gail said...

HI GRIZZ -

I learn so much from you. I knew nothing of the molting phase of a cardinal until this moment. I had NO clue. I find it all quite fascinating and will watch my cardinals more closely as they molt and redefine. You are an exce;;ent teacher.

Love you
Gail
peace.....

Jenn Jilks said...

You nutbar! So glad you are back. Wacko post. As usual. I am married to a man who shaves his head every morning. He would have no sympathy for your red boy. Mind you, he has been eating better and has lost 3" off of his waist. I should diet soon...soon...

But how is your girl?

Robin said...

'the bad part is…I do have the picture.'

And now, so do I. I stole it, just to remind myself....

things could be MUCH worse.

(Hope you don't mind....)

Poor critter.

KGMom said...

So, it definitely is molting? not some encounter with a neighborhood cat? or raptor?
Just don't try to blackmail the cardinal.
Yes, you are part of the bird paparrazi. For shame.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Gail…

All birds molt. Feathers are very durable—one of the most durable materials for its weight in the world—but they wear and eventually need replacement. Most garden birds molt once per year, after the breeding season. (A few species molt several times annually.) They molt gradually, a feather here and there until all have been replaced, particularly with flight feathers. This keeps them from becoming vulnerable to predators. Only a few birds lose their flight feathers at once during the molt, loons, ducks, and geese, for example.

Cardinals around here typically begin molting in early-August and are usually finished by mid-September. Those ratting looking sparrows, blue jays, chickadees, robins and the like you see now are donning their new clothes.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jenn…

Hey, I'm just an innocent journalist—I can't help if if a cardinal that looks like he's fallen into food processor shows up at my window. Wacko, indeed! Huh!

The daughter, thank you for asking, is fine. Feisty as ever! However, the count from attending that shower, last I heard, was up to eleven!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Robin…

YOU STOLE MY PHOTO!!?

Well, okay. Just kidding. :-D

What I want to know is what you're reminding yourself of?

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

According the that book I mentioned on cardinals, this is not common, but well known. The author describes another male redbird that's like mine to a T. So, no…I'm pretty sure this is pure a bad case of the molt. And if birds sang the blues, ol' B.B. Kingbird would probably have some about it out on a CD.

Well, I may be part of the bird paparazzi…but at least I haven't sunk so low as to be playing games on Facebook. :)

KGMom said...

Oh, sir, you wound me.
Well, to each his (or her) own.
I am a game lover, and Facebook gives me word games to play to my heart's content. But, I confess, I have to tell myself to just stop.

Robin said...

I will answer that some day.

Sometimes it's easier to recognize the questions than tend to the tree the stands before you.

But.... my father taught me... knowing there is a problem is half the battle.

I'm off to war.

TheChicGeek said...

Grizzly, you are so funny! I love the way you write and your pictures are so beautiful...
I loved this one in the comments, "axe-whupped UGLY redbird! And when he glared at me through the window, I told him so…and snapped his picture." LOL

Now, that's an expression! LOL
Such a treat to visit here. I always leave with a big smile on my face :)

Have a Happy Day!

Jayne said...

They look so vulnerable, don't they? The Birdchick posted about this last month, and said that in some cases it's just an odd molting pattern, but in other cases, it's probably an infestation of mites, which the bird can't pick off on the top of his poor head. :c)

http://www.birdchick.com/wp/2007/08/bald-cardinals-and-other-bald-birds/

Diana said...

Hi Grizz,
I saw your comment at Gail's , Know Your It's , and thought I'd stop by for a visit. That poor bird, I actually felt sorry for the little fellow! Perhaps he might consider Hans Weiman feather cap replacement!
Maybe he had a little run in with another bird. Hopefully he won. Good photo! Love Di

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

KGMom…

I WOUND you? You SHAMED me first…and after I'd slaved over a hot Nikon, braving the wilds of the riverbank, just so I could get my one humiliating photo of an ill-groomed redbird which I then generously posted for your edification.

I'd get righteously upset except—being an exceptionally insightful and compassionate fellow—I understand, given your admission to being a Facebook game-playing addict, that it is not the real you who says such disparaging things, but simply the voice of this compromising enslavement.

Obsessions are like that—they take over our lives and minds. We snarl at friends and family, neglect work and correspondence, allow our shiny new vehicle to gather dust in the garage, and instead retreat to a dimly-lit room where we sit hunched before a flickering screen and rack our searing brains trying to come up with a five-letter word for "animosity."

Such poor unfortunates deserve our pity and help. Might I suggest a good 12-step program? Given its popularity, you certainly aren't the first innocent adult to have fallen into the snares of Facebook infatuation.

True, you probably should have known better, given the popularity of Facebook among the age group who still thinks responsible drinking means never sitting on a barstool where you might knock others to floor as you pass out.

And I would have thought the early Facebook popularity among the California crowd would have been an obvious tip-off of its unsuitability and danger to a staid Pennsylvanian.

Have you forgotten the common-sense edict that anything which arises amid the sun-bake attitudes and beau monde milieu of the West Coast, when adopted by Midwesterners and Easterners, sooner or later ends up being dealt with through therapy?

I beseech you! Please get help. You didn't burn the midnight oil all those years to learn, then teach, and all all the while honing and expanding those marvelous skills, just so you could deftly plop five letters onto your online Scrabble board naming a river in central Poland. [Warta.]

No, my dear addicted friend—you must save yourself. The blog world needs your posts. I need poetical assistance. And that cute little Toyota is practically purring for mileage.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Robin…

Umm-m-m. We have secrets…

Well, if my redbird photo can help, you are welcome to it. And your father was right!

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

ChickGeek…

We wise-cracking outdoor scribbler types aim to please!

Have a sunny, happy day yourself! (Okay, I know…it ALWAYS sunny out there. Hey, it's the thought that counts.)

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Jayne…

Hey, I checked out the Birdchick's post and I suppose it could be mites—although given that most of the cardinals hereabouts are molting, plus I've seen no other birds with bald pates, I'm still inclined to say molt rather than mites. Too, from what I've read subsequent to this post—and which squares with what the Birdchick said as well—cardinals gone bald during an all-at-once head and neck molt are not really rare, and the oddity seems rather widespread. So there might be some genetic propensity factoring in, too.

But the only way to know for sure would be to capture and examine the bird.

I appreciate the info and redirect.

Lynne at Hasty Brook said...

"Scarlet-plumed pygmy vulture"

THAT cracked me up. I honestly nearly spewed coffee on my laptop keyboard! Thanks for the laughs.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Diana…

Hey, I'm glad you wandered over from Gail's and hope you enjoyed your visit.

Yeah, that redbird looks pretty awful, whether by fight, mites, or molt. With luck, though, he'll grow some new scarlet feathers before cold weather.

Again, thanks for coming over and commenting…and please know we'd be happy to have you stop by the riverbank any time you wish. You're always welcome.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Lynne…

Whee-e-e! Glad I dodged that bullet!

If you'd have shorted out your keyboard because of my words, you'd probably have hunted me down and administered a makeover threshing that left me to resembling my redbird.

Guess I need to post a disclaimer:

THOSE PRONE TO SUDDEN BURSTS OF GUFFAWS, EXPLOSIVE SNORTS, AND SUNDRY SPUTTERING GIGGLES ARE HEREBY ADVISED TO RESTRAIN FROM READING WHILE SIPPING, SWIGGING, OR IMBIBING LIQUIDS!

Does that sound about right to protect me from bodily injury and possible litigation?

Carolyn H said...

Yes, that's certainly a really bad feather day. Mites, I wonder??

Carolyn H.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Carolyn…

Mites or molt? Or a run-in with a weed whacker? We'll just never know…

Children with out voices said...

I read your response on Gail's post. It was well written and full of wisdom. I came to check out your blog and it was filled with the beauty of nature.

Brenda said...

Grizz,
You are so right about the facebook addiction. While staying with my recouperating dad this summer,I found myself exploring the world of facebook. At first it was intriguing -- connecting with people I hadn't heard from in years as friends linked through friends. Then game invites and virtual gifts began appearing. I soon realized it would be easy to spend hours tending some virtual "life" or playing nonsense games, when my own hedges needed trimmed and dogs wanted walked. What a waste!
At first Facebook was like going to a party, flitting from person to person, making small talk. Nice to see old acquaintances, but not particularly fulfilling. At the end of the day, my soul begs for meaningful dialogue, real thoughts about a real life, blog and journal pages to fill.
Now, being a Californian, I could take issue with some of your remarks here, BUT since we share midwestern roots I'll look the other way. This time. ;)
Brenda

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Children…

Hey, glad to have you wander over from Gail's blog. And I appreciate your nice comments about what you found here on the riverbank.

I hope you visit again, or better still, become a regular. Please know you're always welcome.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Brenda…

I trust you know I was kidding KGMom. She's a friend and I was just having fun yanking her chain about her Facebook addiction and online gameplaying. I tease everyone I like, figuring if you can't poke fun at and harass your friends, who're you gonna target? Your enemies will get mad.

This is, of course, a two-way street. You have the quip and the counter-quip; offense, defense. You must take every advantage of each and every quirk and peccadillo. Embarrassing moments must be remembered and reminded of often. I believe a leaky ego is a good thing. Regular gleeful persecution keeps anyone from taking themselves too seriously.

So, am I on Facebook? Nope. Not on Twitter, either. Of course a year ago I wasn't a blogger. Oh, but blogging isn't a waste of time. Says who? Well, someone who doesn't blog or read blogs or like the idea of blogging. Facebook and Twitter and all the rest of the digital communication formats likely have their place…different strokes for different folks. And online gaming? Well, know that I'm an indifferent game player, regardless of format. I'll play Monopoly, checkers, gin rummy, fox and goose, rock-paper-scissors and have a fine time…for a while. But then I go wandering off mentally. Same with Scrabble. Most of the time I'd just as soon count clouds passing overhead or watch June bugs buzz around the porch light.

As a writer, I've always thought I ought to be interested in crossword puzzles. A word game ought to be a perfect fit for someone who works with words—right? Not for me, apparently. I don't think I've ever finished a single crossword.

However, one man's time-waster is often another fellow's passion. Ask anyone who knows me…I can waste time with the best of 'em and call it worthwhile entertainment.

(I might even become a Facebook fan if I could contact and converse with my old younger days pals there. Currently, I keep track of their doings by reading the police blotter, and weekly edition of the Court Reporter. The stove-up ex bull riders I visit in their latest rehab facility. Musician buddies are either taking dirt naps or have become Friday night headliners at the big truck stop out by the country line…except for one or two who gave up rock & roll for gospel. Favorite trout guides have all moved to New Zealand in their eternal quest for ever-bigger fish. And fellow writers appear like Marley's ghost from time to time, disillusioned, often drunk, on their way to or from their latest adventure. None of us are on Facebook.)

As to poking fun of California…allow me to say I have the utmost respect for any state and its citizenry who can put up with wildfires, mud slides, earthquakes, and endless summer, elect movie star politicians, consider feng shui aspects when plopping down a new doghouse in the back yard, cause antediluvian Midwesterners to realize avocados were a food and not just a color for kitchen appliances, can regularly pass others on the street dressed as if they just arrived from the planet Zork without staring open-mouthed, and do not find it at all odd to endure a two-hour-each-way daily commutes for work.

Gosh, no, I would never think of kidding about such a place. I will say I'm glad it's a long way from Ohio, and I believe I do sleep better given the fact there are lots of deserts and mountains between us. However, I'll also admit I feel more or less the same way about any state too far removed from handy access to cornbread, biscuits, and chicken-and-dumplins. And adequate distance gives us casserole-eating bumpkins time to prepare for (or dodge) the next latest, greatest thing; California is like a sort of field test for the future for us Buckeyes.

So if you'll overlook my occasional remarks, I'll forgive you for deserting the Sensible Center and traipsing off to the west edge of the continent. :-D

Rowan said...

Poor bird - he really isn't looking his handsome best is he? Remember though that's he's still the same bird inside even if he is temporarily bald:) Looks aren't everything but I hope those feathers grow back quickly so he can show his face in public again.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

Sorry to be so slow in replying. I've sort of fallen off the earth the last few days, and have been sorely remiss in my correspondence.

Yes, looks aren't everything…I believe this because I repeat like a mantra to my mirror image several times daily. However, I suspect they do ease up the burden of ugliness to a high degree.

Frankly, I feel sorry for that redbird.

I just saw him again at the feeder, and while I'm not certain, I believe his feathers are coming back in. If so, before long he'll be again able to proudly strut his sassy stuff and impress the ladies.

I'm rooting for him!

Rowan said...

I'm rooting for him too Scribe:) Glad to hear that things might be looking up for him. Hope you manage to climb back on to the earth soon, think we all fall off the edge occasionally - I know I do.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Rowan…

I hope so, too. And, thank you.

Brenda said...

Oh dear. My face is as red as this cardinal's beak. If I offended anyone here with the foot-in-mouth comment about my wasting time with some facebook games (which required no word-finding mental prowess, by the way, just lots of "clicking"), I ask forgiveness. As you said, Grizz, "...one man's time-waster is often another fellow's passion." Chock it up to a verbal bad feather day.

The-Grizzled-But-Still-Incorrigible-Scribe-Himself! said...

Brenda…

Hey, I certainly wasn't offended. And I don't think anyone else was, either. I hope YOU weren't offended by my remarks, as I was just having some fun in my reply.

Worry not! You've still most welcome here on the riverbank!