Solving the mystery of what causes bald cardinals

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Nancy Kincaid of Charleston, W.Va. writes, “My husband and I feed birds and squirrels in our backyard, and we have a special male cardinal we have fed for the last two years. He and his mate have raised many young during this time, and we have enjoyed watching them grow and visit our feeders.

“This male cardinal watches for us and flies to our deck railing for peanuts and almonds. My question is, why does he have no feathers on his head and neck — just black skin? He has lost these feathers each of the last two summers, and they seem to grow back by winter. Can you explain our bald cardinal?”

Common

I’ve seen this a few times myself, and it’s one of the more pathetic sights to greet a backyard birder. Cardinals are normally robust and commanding in their brilliant crimson plumage. But every summer I get reports of “bald” cardinals (and sometimes other birds, too).

The descriptions range from birds with merely “unkempt or scruffy looking heads” to “miniature vultures.” Based on my experience, the mini-vulture description is spot on.

Of course, everyone asks what’s wrong with these birds. I’ve always attributed the condition to a bad case of ectoparasites — mites and/or bird lice that actually eat feathers.

Possibilities. Since the head is the one part of the body that’s difficult for a bird to reach with its bill to preen, it seems logical that a severe case of lice or mites could the problem. But I’ve also read reports blaming the condition on an unusual molt. Normally song birds molt, or replace their body feathers, just a few at a time, so it’s hard for even a keen observer to notice.

Unhealthy

For all the head feathers to fall out at once would certainly be unusual and hardly beneficial. The skin could get sunburned by day, torn up by thorns and tree branches, or badly chilled at night or during rain storms. One of the purposes of feathers, after all, is to protect the body from the elements.

Even ornithologists familiar with the problem cannot agree on an explanation. Gary Ritchison, an ornithologist at Eastern Kentucky University and author of Wild Bird Guides: Northern Cardinal (1997, Stackpole) told me he has, ” … handled thousands of cardinals while mist-netting and banding over the years and only a few have had naked heads. None of those had severe mite or lice problems.”

He attributes the phenomenon to an unusual molt pattern. David Bird, an ornithologist at McGill University in Quebec and author of The Bird Almanac (1999, Firefly Books), like me, always assumed this was a parasite problem, but a colleague, Rodger Titman (I’m not making these names up), argues strongly for the unusual molt explanation.

“Rodger has convinced me that an irregular molt is the better answer,” Bird says. Sylvia Halkin, an ornithologist at Central Connecticut University and co-author of the cardinal account in The Birds of North America (1999, No. 440), suggested in print that unusual feather loss may be due to a response to a traumatic injury.

Explanation

Finally, Chris Thompson, an ornithologist with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, has been studying molt for years. When cardinals just lose their crest or their heads appear scruffy, he explained, that’s probably the result of molt.

“Most birds become secretive and less active while molting, so we don’t see them very often in this condition,” he said. “Since we don’t often see actively molting birds, we perceive the condition as rare, although it’s probably just rarely seen.”

Completely naked heads, on the other hand, “are not normal,” he says. “When birds molt, new feathers push out the old ones, so a head should never appear completely naked. Parasites might be the answer.”

Next time you see a bald cardinal (or other backyard bird), blame molt if the bird looks like it’s having a bad hair day. But if the head is completely naked, it could be parasites or maybe trauma from an injury.

(Send questions and comments to Dr. Scott Shalaway, RD 5, Cameron, WV 26033 or via e-mail at his website, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com.)

About the Author

Scott Shalaway, who holds a Ph.D. in wildlife ecology from Michigan State University, writes from his home in rural West Virginia. A former faculty member at Oklahoma State University and the University of Oklahoma Biological Station, he has been writing a weekly nature column for newspapers and freelancing for magazines since 1986. Send questions and comments to scottshalaway@gmail.com. You can also visit his Web site, http://scottshalaway.googlepages.com. More Stories by Scott Shalaway

92 Comments

  1. T Hoover says:

    Thanks for posting this info-

    • The male cardinal with the dark head looks like another species and rather comic. I had guessed molting and feel this is correct. On another issue. A cardinal couple lives my yard and raises babies each year. Last spring an interloper tried to oust the husband. For nearly a month there was the constant air chase. I really didn’t know whether the new comer or home bird was doing the chasing. Finally the on going chase
      was over and a sad looking male bird with no crest was left to eat my sunflower seeds. I do not know which bird survived the rivalry — but it was evident that rough Cardinal fighting had taken place.

      • Janis Galatas says:

        I have not seen any totally bald cardinals. But I have several males and females that look like scruffy cardinals but their bills are dark brown and not orange. They are not entirely red but red, brown and grey. I do notice the “twitching” behavior but it was raining and I assumed they were drying out their feathers. What is this? Are “my’ birds unhealthy?

    • ledyas says:

      it is not molting. have had one bird for at least one year like this and others are appearing. it must be some kind of disease.

      • Roxy says:

        What part of the country are you located? Happy to say, my bald South Carolina cardinal has completely re-feathered. His head was black and leathery with one crest feather. His body feathers were a mess, it was amazing he could fly! It took about 4-5 months for him to re-feather. He visits my feeder everyday.

  2. Steve Wulf says:

    so.. noone really knows.

  3. Kansas says:

    Just saw a cardinal like this about two minutes ago, googled it, and found this website. So no one knows for sure?

  4. Steve Callaway says:

    I think it is just one bald and well travelled cardinal!

  5. Mark says:

    I just saw one in my backyard (near Burlington, NC) on May 5, 2013, 3:45pm. Looked completely bald and just showing black skin. My first thought was a traumatic injury of some sort, so I searched online for an explanation. Based on this article, I guess it must be parasites.

    • Jane says:

      I have had bald male cardinals in my yard most of this summer. I’ve been a bird watcher for over 60 years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen this. I tend to agree that it is probably some form of molt. But, my further question is … is the skin of the entire bird black?

      • Yo says:

        i have been seeing these on my back balcony all this summer. Just out of nowhere, one day, they started showing up. I actually stopped putting food in the bird feeder directly out back because if it was bacterial or commutable I didn’t want it to transfer to the other birds. Have the cardinals in your neighborhood come back this year? Do they have feathers on their heads again? Do you not see them anymore? And have you heard anything about what caused it? Mine do have the black skin.

      • Yo says:

        I just read more. I’m in Pittsburgh, PA. I have a few of them here. I haven’t noticed their gender. They appear healthy other than then head. I did notice that the very first few days I saw them they moved their wings a little “twitchy” or itchy… It didn’t leave them unable to function. It was minor. They do eat normal and aren’t getting smaller or losing any other bodily feathers. Their color is good as well. We do have a good number of vultures where I live as well and they do carry that resemblance. Interesting.?.?.?

  6. Fred says:

    We see bald Cardinals almost every year in Illinois. I seems to be common in males.

  7. Sandra says:

    We have a bald male cardinal that visits our birdfeeder on a regular basis. He has been around for at least 2 years looking the very same way. I feel sorry for him would like to make him a little hat.

  8. Carl Palmer says:

    We have had a completely black headed Cardinal in our yard for years. When he started loosing his feathers and was half bald we named him Phantom (after the the half masked Phantom of the Opera.)
    The female was and stayed completely feathered. We have not seen a bald female. We learned where there nests were and the baldness trait has been past to the offspring. After these many year we do not know if we see phantom or son of phantom. So the trait is either genetically past down or caused by mites, we don’t know. We will watch For a female Phantom.

    • Maria says:

      August 8, 2014
      We have been feeding cardinals in our backyard for years in Montreal West Island; for the first time this year noticed this mature female; little by little she has been losing feathers on her head and she does look like a little vulture now; still very spunky though and feeding well; I hope she does well when the weather turns cold. Thank you for the info I thought she was just getting old and ready to die!

      • Liz says:

        We are in the Hudson Valley, New York. We have a bald juvenile female appears daily with a male partner. I was so curious, glad I found this site. She is growing and robustly at that. Glad to know she is not being picked on and that is obvious by her behavior. She seems more outgoing and gregarious than the male. Would love to eventually find the answer to the cause of the baldness.

  9. Rick says:

    I have one like this in my back yard in Maryland… I thought it was a different kind of bird until I saw its mate flying with him. The “vulture” look is spot on…

    • Bett says:

      My husband and I have a juvenile female with a bald head visiting our Baltimore feeder this summer. She was always alone but I am glad to report that we viewed a healthy male cardinal with her at the feeder yesterday. I was afraid she had been rejected because of her odd baldness but after reading the comments here I am glad to know she may have a chance at a “normal” mate and lifespan.

  10. Amelia says:

    Thanks for this explanation! We recently saw a thoroughly bald, black headed cardinal at our feeder and were wondering what caused this cardinal vulture.

  11. Renee says:

    This is the first year I’ve seen him, but he seems healthy and eats ravenously at the feeder. Completely black head, like an old leather helmet. I’m in a residential area of Raleigh NC.

  12. Karen says:

    I just saw a “vultured” male Cardinal today – July 17, 2013. Had one last year as well although he was a bigger bird. The female’s that I have seen still have all of their feathers – Bluffton, SC.

  13. Morgan says:

    Just saw one today (July 20th, 2013) at the feeder in Martinsburg, WV.

  14. Heather says:

    I reside in East Texas. I, too have a bald-headed male cardinal. He’s been around for quite awhile. Just today I noticed another with the onset of the same, but interestingly it appears this male has little areas not only confined to his neck and head. I think it’s starting on his back, as well. Also of note, there are about four other younger males (not of juvenile age) that have somewhat mottled coloring……almost making them appear female, but they are definitely not female. Pretty sure they are from the same nest originally. I was just told yesterday of one same male in Denton, TX so I guess this is widespread. Wish we could know for sure. This is the first year of these sightings for me.

  15. Billy says:

    We’ve had a bald male here at our feeder. Augusta, GA. His female mate looks just fine. He appears healthy. I assumed trauma.

  16. Barbie Lew says:

    Hi,
    For the past few weeks “Baldy” my black headed bald cardinal has been visiting. Today, I noticed “Baldetta” a completely bald female! Also today a scruffy headed male, proper male/s & proper female/s.

    There are titmice, chickadee’s, sparrows, red finches, downy woodpecker & nuthatch on occasaion..But cardinal is only bald birf I have noted.

  17. theresa says:

    we have had a male coming to our feeder in roswell,ga. for a couple yrs. the baldness starts about mid to late July. Now we are seeing 2 to 3 this yr. Wonder if it is really parasites,or something inherited

  18. tvabiker says:

    We have one .. east Tennessee 2013

  19. Francisco Mari says:

    I have one nesting on my backyard in Elgin, Illinois, on the Chicago suburbs. It does look like a mini vulture. The young female nesting with him looks normal. If it were parasites the female would most likely have it also since they share the same nest, don’t you think?

  20. Loren says:

    We have seen one at our feeder during June and July at Lake of the Ozarks, MO. He was feeding 2 normal fledglings. PS Maybe he was hen pecked. :-)

  21. tvabiker says:

    Maybe he liked the hen that was doing the peckin

  22. Amy Moss says:

    Just saw a bald male today in my yard, southwest PA. I am leaning toward genetics instead of parasites. I love how googling brought me right to this site! Very interesting and cool to know this exists all over!

  23. Lex says:

    I’m in Birmingham al and have a pair that comes to the feeder multiple times a day. They are both larger than regular cardinals, have even bigger orange beaks than cardinals I have seen, and have scruffy but fully-feathered heads with no crests. The male has bluish grey marks on the back of his head. They look like cardinals in every way except for the head shape. I’ve been stumped by this and have not found the answer thru research but I guess they are large moulting cardinals?

    • Theresa says:

      Hi, I too live in Birmingham (Hoover) & have had a large bald cardinal I call Leatherneck as his entire head is black & it looks like leather. Your note caught my eye, as Leathernec’s beak is Very Large & orange. Also, I saw him again this morning & besides his beak being large, it’s shape is more like a parrot’s beak. Leatherneck was at my feeder alone & when he flew off, another male cardinal landed & his beak was much smaller & the shape was off. Anyway, has anyone else noticed the shape of the beak?

      • Roxy says:

        Theresa, the beak on my bald cardinal (Irmo, SC) is misshaped too; it is slightly curved with a little overbite. I first thought the beak was larger than normal but decided it was just that his featherless head looks so small. Other than his unusual appearance, he seems healthy. He and his beautiful little mate visit my feeder daily.

  24. Sandie says:

    Just saw one at our feeder. Have seen scruffy cardinals before, but this is first that is completely bald.

  25. Charla says:

    Good to know it is a common thing….I was afraid they had contracted something in our area only. We have a bald male and some kind of scruffy females tagging along at our feeder in St. Joseph, MO this last few weeks. Thanks for the site, it really helps to know if is pretty common. We will keep feeding them and hope they come out of it.

  26. Mari says:

    We have been watching a totally bald male Cardinal at our feeder for 3 to 4 weeks, in central Minnesota.
    The skin of his head appears dark blue. Have been trying to photograph him but he doesn’t stay long. He has all the features of a healthy young adult Cardinal except the bald head and grumpy look/ attitude. This is the first summer we’ve ever noticed this, though we have 3-4 breeding pairs of Cardinals who live on our wooded lot year-round.

  27. Jim says:

    We’ve seen a bald male at our feeder all summer. Seems healthy otherwise, and appears to have a normal looking female mate. Madison, WI.

  28. Angie says:

    Located in SW Michigan — have the primary male cardinal that looks like someone took the clippers to him when he was sleeping. Lost the feathers on top of his head, as well as blotches on the body. Hoping he’ll come out of it soon.

  29. Sharon says:

    I have many 10 pairs of cardinals coming to feed.I live in NW Arkansas. Been watching them for 7 years, however I believe this is the first time I have noticed the molting effect on the males…. At first I noticed the poor things with black/purple colored heads with sprigs of feathers poking out.. all the feamales seem to be fine. I see mine all day long as they come to eat the Diamond Lamb & Rice food we have out for the Cats… Haven’t seen too many Jays the last month, so maybe they are hiding.. will need to take notice if the Jays are molting also. So happy to see this is wide spread effect.. I know birds do molt during the summer… :)

  30. Gino says:

    Over the past year (2012/2013), my first year of having a feeder, I have had many cardinals visit. I have had great success with many species and I have witnessed both a female and a male cardinal experiencing baldness.

    The female cardinal presented over the winter with a completely bald head and made it through the spring. I never once saw her behaving or feeding differently than any of the other cardinals. I have yet to see her this summer. I simply assume she grew her head crest back quickly and is now one of the normal looking females because I never saw what I would say is a female cardinal growing back its head feathers.

    I witnessed the male progressively losing his beautiful crest in July. It started with a small spot on one side of his face and the feather loss worked itself all the way around. Today I saw him as bald as a vulture, feeding and seemingly happy as I can remember. I intend on keeping my eye on him to see if he grows his head feathers back before the winter.

  31. Susan says:

    Saw my first completely bald cardinal this summer in Central MA. He looked healthy and didn’t appear to have any other feather issues. I think it must be genetic because the line between his bald head and his healthy feathers was perfect – if it were parasites you would think he would look unevenly bald? Interesting – never saw this before in the 20 years at my house.

  32. Billy says:

    After a few days of absence my bald cardinal was back at the feeder with what looks like a buzz cut. He has light red (punk pink?) feathers coming in all over his formerly bald head. So, is this a head only molt? Or recovering from other problems?

  33. Gail says:

    I have one bald head with holes like vultures cardinal in my birdfeeder everyday and I took some pictures and it’s really gross and knew its something wrong like diseases but very interesting to watch him as other birds have no fear of this bird.Live in Wisconsin!

  34. Cindy Sale says:

    2011 and 2012 I noticed 1 cardinal with completely bald head at our feeders, I called him franken-cardinal. This summer I have see 7 different birds; cardinals, blue jays and a dove, with the same condition. The condition seems to be spreading to other birds who come into our feeders. We are in a rural area. Within a 1/2 mile in any direction there are other neighbors with feeders, with lots of timber, a lake & pond, open fields, crop land, pasture and a county park and golf course near by. We live near Des Moines Iowa. Franken-cardinal winters over and is a regular at our feeders, his head feathers came back over the winter but never completely so he was easy to spot among the others.

  35. irene says:

    i”m west of Pittsburgh. have bald headed cardinal. it’s probably a female because it is not bright red, but also seems more red then other females. it is so bald you can clearly see the ear openings. it’s seems large, but maybe the feathers ( all complete) are puffed up to stay warmer.? noticed one earlier this year. seems to feed well. Wonder if the feed has some additive that effects only cardinals. use “3-d premium song bird feed…..

  36. Rose Haven says:

    I have not seen a bald cardinal and am a long time birder in Iowa and Minnesota. I don’t buy the idea that it is genetic nor a natural molting. I suspect an environmental factor, e.g., herbicides, pesticides, either in the natural environment or in the feed.

  37. Sue says:

    My husband 1st spotted Kojack, our male bald cardinal about 3 winters ago. Hadn’t seen him for several months, then he reappeared about 3 months ago. Was glad to see him with a mate this time. We also had a bald female visit our feeders this spring & summer. She also had a mate, but we haven’t seen her for about a month. We named her Kojill. Got photos of both baldies so I could enlarge them & check out their heads better

  38. Bonnie says:

    We have a bald headed male cardinal here in Etowah, Tn. He first appeared back during the fall of last year 2013. He was only partially bald then. I thought something had pecked him or he had an accident. He always came to the feeder alone, and only stayed a minute. But every few days more feathers were gone, until he was completely bald. He went all winter bald. I always felt sorry for him, we had a very harsh winter here this year,many days never got above freezing, and many nights zero or below. I always made sure to keep out food for all the birds and especially lots of food during our snow days. He now stays longer at the feeder, and eats with all the other birds. He doesn’t have a mate yet, but I keep my hopes up for him!

  39. Arvind says:

    Was shocked to see our regular feeder visiting Cardinal completely bald today. Have not paid close attention to him for the past few weeks, but he has been a regular visitor for the last year since we put up the feeders. He has been scruffier than his mate, but today he was completely bald – like a vulture. I also thought that he was behaviorally a bit different – normally he only ground feeds, but today he was trying to get at the feeder with the house finches. Was alarmed to see him like that so googled and found this. A bit relieved to know this is fairly common and not a fatal condition. I hope he recovers his regal mane soon.

  40. Connie says:

    Thank you!
    We’re on the west coast of Florida. and recently put our first feeder at this house. The feeder is full of safflower seeds and three cardinals have been regulars since the first of April. About three weeks ago, one male started loosing its head feathers…today, their completely gone. We feel much better knowing that it is nothing too serious.

  41. Mimi says:

    I’ve been seeing male Cardinals for 4 years now with this molting problem in Falls Church VA. I still get a bit of shock when I spot one of the guys, but they carry on just as they do all year round and don’t appear to be in agony. I believe it is molting as it always appears in April and May and it is still fairly cool here during this time, which one would think would keep the mites and critters away from them until the warmer months arrive. It’s just a thought and I don’t have any scientific ways to back this theory up.

  42. Arvind says:

    Happy to report that the bald Cardinal I reported here on April 27 has been growing his brown back. He still like he is fuzzy around the head, but not completely bald as earlier. Very very happy to see this. Do folks – don’t panic – a bald Cardinal is not unusual and you should see it grow back in a few weeks.

  43. Sue T says:

    After searching online bird guides for hours, finally found this. I saw a male on my feeder with another male which was normal. Was excited to think I saw a new bird. Mine didn’t look completely bald – not ragged or vulture-like. Perhaps he’ll return again and I will get a better look. The one I saw looked like it was wearing a balaclava. Thanks for the information. Location: Hartland WI

  44. Rick B. says:

    There were three bright red “male pattern baldness” Cardinals in our River Birch this morning here in Charlotte, NC. All three eventually visited the feeders on a pole in front of them. They were completely bald from the neck up, with that ashen grey skin exposed, just like a vulture. The thickness of the feathers at the “timberline” did not seem to indicate any problems with the feathers just below the neck. That’s why I find it difficult to accept some sort of feather eating parasite theory — why would it not eat the feathers below, too? Also, the rest of their feathers were intact, so definitely not molting. My guess is there is something irritating their skin, and they scratch at it with their claws until eventually they scratch all the feathers off their head and neck. Just as they cannot reach their head with their beaks, they cannot reach other parts of their body with their claws or those feathers might be scratched off, too. We did find a number of Northern Cardinal down looking feathers on the ground near our fence last week (red tips, grey lower part).

  45. Shari C. says:

    We have both a male and a female Cardinal nesting on our property who have no feathers on their heads. Not sure if they are a mating pair as we have 4 pair of Cardinals. We have seen the female feeding fledglings at our feeders. Apparently they have adapted to the rigors of having bald heads as they have been around for at least two years now and this past winter was particularly bad here in East Tennessee.

  46. Roberta Smith says:

    I live in Fairfax Station, VA and have had a bald male cardinal feeding on my deck the past few days. I noticed him the other day and thought he looked old and “different” due to his dark head. Today I looked at him with binoculars and could see plain as day that he was totally bald from the neck up!! Immediately Googled it and found this site. Nice to read the various explanations. Mine appears healthy and happy.

  47. Dru says:

    Gotta love google. I’m in a suburb of Baltimore, MD and have been watching a male cardinal at my feeder for a few weeks. I think when I first noticed him, he did still have a few feathers left but today he is back and totally bald with the vulture look. I’m surprised the ring around his neck where it stops is pretty well defined, not jagged or scraggly. This is my first year with a feeder and am enjoying working from home and watching the birds. Cats love them too. Will keep an eye out for any females with the same problem.

  48. Roxy says:

    I too have a bald male cardinal at my feeder in Irmo, SC. He visits regularly with his beautiful feathered mate. The male has one long crest feather on his gray leathery head. He is completely feathered from the neck down but the feathers are ruffled and an unusual reddish-gray color. Despite the odd appearance, he seems to be healthy. I first noticed the pair several months ago, they are regular visitors now.

  49. Heather says:

    I live in Lancaster county, PA. and have been watching a male cardinal slowly lose his head feathers for about 2 months now as he sits at my feeder….for a few weeks he was down to just one tall feather on the top of his head, and just yesterday he lost that one…..now he has a black skinned, featherless head….like the vulture description used in other posts. His song is the same, he eats a ton, and he has a female partner who sometimes graces the feeder with her presence. My feeder is a clear acrylic one that is attached to my window, so I can get a very close look at him….I feel sorry for him, but it doesn’t seem to bother him.

  50. Maria says:

    We have a bald male with a black head at our feeder in Pensacola, Florida. He seems healthy and active. Thanks for all of the great information!

  51. Wick Smith says:

    Here is a picture of a guy who comes to my feeder regularly. Note the hole in his neck:

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ijjagitq2pqycxp/Shabby%20Hayes%20the%20Cardinal.jpg

  52. Connie says:

    About 10 months ago (in Sarasota FL.), we noticed our first bald male cardinal. We now have two. The second is completely bald on his head while the first still has a few feathers from his crown. They both seem to happy, bright and healthy. As a matter of fact, they both have families that are coming to our feeder.
    Ya gotta’ love em…we named the first Cochise and the second Kojak.
    Connie

  53. D Lee says:

    This summer noticed a bald female Cardinal. Today, July 15, 2014, noticed the male is bald. So decided to find out if these birds molt, as I’ve never seen this. Your article is very helpful. Should this be brought to the attention of the North Carolina Wildlife? If this is parasites or mites, should I be careful when filling the bird feeders? Can there be parasites/mites left on the feeder? With their bald heads and heavy coat of feathers, these poor birds look like Uncle Fester of the Addams Family (he wears a heavy cloak). Hope they regrow their feathers soon. Will other birds catch the parasites/mites?

  54. Paula says:

    Live in Falls Church ,VA and saw my first bald cardinal last year. Looked at my feeder just now and there are two!

  55. Robin says:

    We’ve been worried about a bald cardinal in our yard we call Pate. (Greenbelt, Maryland). Great to find that he is likely healthy and able to lead a normal life! His energy level appears fine and we observe him eating and singing.
    Can’t tell whether Pate has a mate.

  56. Patty says:

    Saw a black headed male cardinal today for the first time at our Fairborn, Ohio home. Seems to be healthy and eating with the other birds. Strange looking! July 21, 2014

  57. Cindy Sale says:

    It has been over a year since I have seen this baldness on any birds at our feeders. I am fairly certain franken-cardinal is still around because he was always the lookout bird on the same branch when I fill the feeders and he is still acting as lookout. Whatever caused the feather loss seems to be gone and caused him and the others no ill effect.

  58. Steve says:

    We just saw a bald male cardinal at our home in Grand Rapids, MI. The vulture description fit him very well. This is the first time I’ve seen this. Took me a few moments to make sure I was seeing what I was actually seeing. Lol.

  59. Susan says:

    Thank you for this information and website! We live in Northern VA, about 16 miles west of Washington, DC, and have had one bald male cardinal visiting our feeder daily for at least a year. Other than his baldness, he appears robust, normal, and definitely has a mate and family. I too thought he might be “hen-pecked,” but have not seen any of rejection behavior from the other birds. I have been so curious, I had to Google “bald cardinal.” To my delight, I have found others who have concern over their own beautiful, backyard, bald cardinals. Bald is beautiful!

  60. Lawrence, KS says:

    Just saw a completely bald female in the mock orange at my kitchen window. I was startled by her completely bald, black-skinned head. The miniature vulture description is apt. Poor thing. Found this website as a result of a quick search. Hope she gets her feathers back. Seems like sunburn would be a risk in our hot, sunny climate. Luckily there’s ample shade in my yard.

  61. Julie says:

    I’ve seen several of these birds at my feeder this month and the “vulture” description fits perfectly. I thought it was a different bird because the beak looks more parrot-like and the head is completerly black with bulging eyes. After reading these descriptions, I now think they are bald cardinals. One was busy feeding an immature cowbird all day yesterday. They appear healthy and active. I’m in Savannah, GA.

  62. T.M. says:

    I just spotted a bald male cardinal at our feeder now. Is there any type of supplement that can be added to the feeder to mitigate the parasites, if that is the case?

  63. Susie says:

    We have a bald cardinal at our feeder now, here in Chapel Hill NC..interested in the trauma theory, what would that possibly be?

  64. Roxy says:

    Irmo, SC- My bald cardinal has been a regular for 3+ months now. I’ve been photographing him weekly for about 2 months. Photos shot last weekend show sparse new feathers around the beak just between his eyes. His body feathers have also undergone quite a change. He has very “fluffy” gray down-like feathers about his shoulders; a friend described him as a warrior with his leather helmet and large cape . I look forward to his daily visits and cheerful song; he is very vocal.

  65. John Kakos says:

    I have a lot Cardinals at the back yard feeder, but a black headed one showed up ,this summer. This guys head is as bald as a Buzzards. Seem’s to health but always alone. Will he infect the feeder ? If so, what’s the answer if any? Thanks ,John

  66. B N says:

    Just saw male and female with bald black heads this am. Milwaukee, wi

  67. teresa gregory says:

    I am in central Minnesota, I have a male Cardinal who is in the process of loosing his head feathers at my feeder now. My son and daughter-in-law in the twin cities have had a “vulture cardinal” all Summer at their feeder.

  68. Sharon A says:

    I live in Florence KY. I have noticed the birds at my feeder scratching a lot this summer. Just a few days ago, I saw my first bald cardinal. I thought it was some strange new bird but after a while I realized it was just a cardinal with no feathers on it’s head. All solid black skin. I hope I am not causing other birds to become contaminated if there is some sort of pest problem.

  69. CT says:

    Just today I looked out and was almost spooked by a bald head/neck male cardinal. Makes their beak look HUGE. He seems healthy, spunky and looking for food as usual. Strange looking though.

  70. Suzanne McClain says:

    I have been seeing numerous bald male cardinals at my balcony feeder for about 4 years. I was very worried about them initially and still am to a certain extent. I live in Roswell, GA. Have also noticed some scruffy looking females lately but not any bald ones. I have so many birds, its hard to keep up with who is paired with whom but have many juvenile girls this year too. Wish there was something I could do to fix their baldness but alas, don’t know what it would be. Please let us all know if a supplement is found that we humans could provide to help all these birds.

  71. SJ says:

    I have seen both male and female at my feeder with bald heads. They look pitiful! Glad for the info and to hear this is not so unusual. My husband and I love watching them at our feeders. In the piedmont of NC.

  72. Roxy says:

    Irmo, SC– Happy to report that my bald cardinal is feathering back beautifully! He still has a few wild feathers but is looking really good. It’s as if he went through an early, very severe molt. His female companion is molting now as are the wrens and mockingbirds.

  73. Jerry Schulte says:

    I have watched a bald cardinal at my feeder most of the summer. It seemed to progress down the body with his neck and upper body starting to “bald out” as well. Have noticed one other cardinal starting to exhibit the balding condition. Other cardinals, both males, females and immatures, as well as a Carolina Wren now, are also exhibiting unusually “scuffy” looking plumage. I can’t believe this is just an unusual molt pattern. I was close to sacrificing “baldy” so i could look for ectoparasites or any unusual dermal or sub-dermal conditions (as well as take him out of the local pool lest he infect everyone else). But, alas, an immature Coopers Hawk took him out for dinner tonight. Now i guess i’ll have to watch for a bald Coopers Hawk! ;)

  74. Sarah Albritton says:

    We’ve had a male cardinal this year who began as scruffy looking and into the summer became completely bald. We were curious but unconcerned.
    Just now I saw a male bluejay with the same thing! Should we stop feeding for a while–are they cross contaminating one another?

  75. Sarah Albritton says:

    I just found this write up on Blue Jays and she mentions cardinals molting their head feathers in late summer too.
    http://wildbirdsunlimited.typepad.com/the_zen_birdfeeder/2009/08/if-the-blue-jays-are-bald-it-must-be-august.html

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