Solving the mystery of what causes bald cardinals

"Bald Cardinal" by buddhaflyz is licensed under CC BY ( / Cropped original video still

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?”


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.


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.


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.


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,


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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. He can be heard on Birds & Nature from 3-4 p.m. Sunday afternoons on 620 KHB Radio, Pittsburgh, or live online anywhere at, or on the Tune-In radio app. Visit his website at or contact him directly at or 2222 Fish Ridge Road, Cameron, WV 26033.


    • 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.

      • 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?

      • Bald, vulture-like make cardinals are also at our Jackson, Ms backyard feeder this summer. There are 2 with healthy females and they all seem otherwise fine. Eating and singing.


      • 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.

      • I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia and have never seen such a pathetic sad little cardinal in my life as this summer’s “vulture” looking cardinal. No head plumage at all! That started in June but since then, I’ve seen many scruffy cardinals and wonder what the heck is happening to them. I’ve been watching birds my whole life and never seen this. Who can I call to have someone come and really check on them? Something is wrong.

      • I am in Wright City, MO, and have lived here 12 years. I have seen approx 6-7 Cardinals in my front yard hopping around with completely naked/bald black leathery heads. bodies appear to be fine and covered with feathers. They act normal in comparison to the full feathered Cardinals accompanying them. I always see them around late June – early August. As much as I want to believe molting is the issue, I tend to believe there are other underlying issues because I have seen multiples and supposedly its rare to see this occurrence.

    • Thank you Thom for your observations and your voice!

      We too, have seen almost NO butterflies this year!!! And no one is talking about this in my circles…this is alarming to me. Why is this not all over the news? Front page headlines? Let’s start talking about this!

      My bald cardinals are remaining bald and it’s been months. This cannot be healthy. Something is wrong. If it’s ‘just’ fungus or parasites, this is because their immune systems are compromised. The bees and bats are also dying from parasites (they actually eat the bees from the inside out, liquifying them like some weird scifi movie).

      Bald cardinals and no butterflies should sound out alarms (the canary in the coal mine…)? And alarmed and mad and taking action is up to us! Please start noticing what’s happening around you, look for the butterflies, look for strange activities like bees dying in piles and don’t ignore it or minimize it. Things are happening in front of our eyes…we cannot pretend it’s normal or will just go away.

      There are 80 thousand chemicals unleashed in our environment, and less than 1% have been tested (and what has been is for a 150 lb. male and none are tested in combination). Many are banned in Europe, but are being sold to us and many more were grandfathered in that contain lethal ingredients. Toxins are unsafe for us, our children, our animals and our environment. There are plenty of alternatives that work great (like enzymatic ingredients, vinegar, etc). We can all start by reading the labels and choosing differently. That’s the only way we’ll be heard.

      • I, too, have bald male cardinal. He sits on the feeder and calls me to bring hm saffola and sunflower seeds. Two days ago, he started sitting on my shoulder while I fill the feeders. There has been no sign on his mate for several months
        What is more disturbing to me is that up until two years ago, we had many praying mantis
        No more. Even though I plant copious amounts of dill, I have not seen a cocoon or a swallowtail butterfly in three years. So sad
        We live on totally organic property in SW Virginia next to the Blue Ridge Parkway. Rachael Carson warned us many years ago. Silent Spring should have become mandatory reading 40 yrs ago.

      • If you have shabby looking birds at your feeder here is what you do…….Place a flat piece of plywood about 2 feet X 2 feet close to your feeder…….Place a liberal amount of sunflower seeds in the center of the board, then place a liberal amount of Diatomaceous Earth around the edge of the seeds. The DE will get on and in their feathers when they come to eat the seeds. DE will kill all the lice and mites and any other parasites the birds may have infesting them. DE will not harm the birds, but will rid them of pests within a week or two. You will have healthy looking birds in no time. DE keeps on working until it gets wet or blown away. Your birds will appreciate what you have done for them. The adult birds will carry the DE back to the nest to help rid the chicks of pests, as an added benefit. DE can be bought at local feed stores. I did this myself and it worked wonders for my birds….no more shabby looking birds at my feeder.
        Sincerely, Dave Ems

      • This Summer was the 1st time I saw a bald redbird. I believe in early June is when I noticed one of the male red birds at my garden feeder, looked like he was molting After a couple of weeks I noticed he was completely bald. In the last couple of days I believe I have noticed another one starting to go bald. I have a deep Suspicion it has something to do with those Chem trails we’ve been seeing more and more of in the past decade.

    • This spring all the Cardinals visiting my feeder here in Nashville, TN looked beautiful. Now several of them exhibit baldness to one degree or another. One is completely bald. This does not look like molting to me and based on the numerous other reports here, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn there is a disease or disorder causing the problem. I have seen several other birds of different variety at my feeder with thin, oily looking head feathers. They do not look healthy. Frankly, it’s rather alarming.

    • I’m beginning to wonder if there might be a common thread connecting our individual sightings of bald cardinals. It’s a long shot, but what if the food source we’re all using in our feeders was contaminated? I’m not sure what they spray on sunflower seeds in the fields, but the thought did come to mind. I have no evidence this is the case, but it might be good if we all compare notes here. For most of the summer I’ve been feeding a variety of Pennington products purchased from the local WalMart and Home Depot. They are as follows:

      Pennington Ultra
      Pennington Black Oil Sunflower Seeds
      Pennington Birders Blend

      I would like to hear from those of you who have been seeing bald cardinals at your feeders. What have you been feeding your birds this year?

      • Could be, Terry. For me it’s always black oil sunflower seed, various brands, either from Walmart or Home Depot.

      • I’m leaning toward a severe molt. I feed mine various Pennington seed. I also feed sunflower but purchase the shelled seed. Mine birds love suet as well. My bird went through this last year. He refeathered and looks beautiful while on the same diet. He is still around and visits several times a day.

      • To Terry: I like your idea of surveying seed fed to bald cardinals. Mine seem to be getting more feathers, but lots of black and grey on back and wings, and also some (females?) brown colored with a brown beak, not the usual orange beak, I use Safeway’s Black oil sunflower seeds, occasionally mixed with song bird food (much smaller seeds) and cardinal seed containing nuts. I also hang out suet blocks. The kind marked “all weather” is less popular but eventually eaten by woodpeckers, sparrows, jays, and occasional cardinals. They drink out of a bird bath which I clean and refill daily. I havent found mention of this condition on the internet. If it is ever advised, it would be relatively easy to put some kind of medicine in the water. Also I am planning to wash out the feeders thorougly. Thanks.

      • I’m beginning to wonder also about the feeder seeds for wild birds. There had been a problem with dog and cat food. I am also having “bald cardinals” at my feeder. Other birds seem to steer away from him. I live near Huntington WV and this is the first time I have seen my cardinals looking so bad

    • I have a local bald cardinal ” Buzzard Head” who’s rather burly but his bald head looks “tiny” on his rather plump body. It’s rather recent I started feeding bird seed, so, he was bald before that. He’s featherless on his head. so….I doubt that for a whole month this one bird has no trace of a feather on is head, unlike the others, yet his other plumage is normal if it’s a molting thing.

  1. 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.

    • 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?

      • 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.

      • 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.?.?.?

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

    • 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!

      • 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.

  4. 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…

    • 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.

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

  6. 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.

    • Today is May 18, 2015 and I have seen a bald-headed “vultured” male cardinal at my suet feeder several times in the past few days (had never seen one before). The head/neck are completely bald with just the black skin showing but all the rest of his feathers appear normal and beautiful. He also appears very energetic so hopefully he’s okay. I’m in a residential area of Charlotte, NC.

      • Kathy- I had a bald male cardinal show up at my Irmo SC feeder about this time last year. He and his mate still visit daily. I’m happy to report, today he is a beautiful fully feathered bird. I think it was some unusual molt. It started with his head, then moved to his body. I’d be interested in hearing if your bird follows the same pattern.

      • I found this site after seeing a female cardinal with a completely bald head at my feeder today. I’ve never seen one before, either. I’m in Columbia, SC.

      • Just an update, I still have the bald female cardinal hanging out at my bird feeder. Just a couple of weeks ago I also saw a bald male cardinal and a bald pigeon(!!), both in downtown Columbia, SC.

    • Renee – It’s very encouraging to read that your bald male cardinal is now fully feathered. If he keeps visiting my feeder I will report back on my observations as to whether he follows the same unusual molt pattern that yours did.

    • Renee we also live in Raleigh area – southern Granville County, and have seen a black-helmet-wearing male this summer for the first time. Truly strange, not even a tuft like in the pic above. It is possible a mutation in the population has a sexual selection advantage and is increasing in frequency in the east coast population.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

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

  10. 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.

  11. 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

  12. 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?

  13. 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. :-)

  14. 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!

    • Yes..I thought our guy, Buzzard Head, was unique but it now seems a thing that happens. Our other local cardinals are pretty normal.

  15. 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?

    • 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?

      • 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.

  16. 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.

  17. 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.

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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… :)

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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?

    • I have a bald headed female and male Cardinal and a Bald Tufted Titmouse. Their head are black but they seem healthy. I’m in Northern Virginia.

  24. 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!

  25. 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.

  26. 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…..

  27. 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.

    • I agree with Rose. I find it very interesting that people are reporting sightings only in the last couple of years. I cannot imagine that a bald head is normal. I have been watching our feeder and have seen at least two of these birds. I live in So. Portland, Maine. I also recently saw a balding squirrel and we thought at first it was old. Then we found it going in circles on the sidewalk, almost completely bald, squeaking plaintively. I attribute it to toxins as it was much too bizarre. He killed in to relieve it of it’s misery and I wish we could have had an autopsy but I don’t know of any places that do that for animals. We all need to keep an eye on our environment because there are more signs showing up every day (notice a drastic decline this year of butterflies and bees in our yards) pointing to the fact that there are 80,000 chemicals in our environmental ‘soup’ most of which have not been tested (less than 1%!). If they are approved it’s for a 150 pound male human, not a tiny bird or animal. There are so many wonderful alternatives now to chemicals, pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers, house cleaners, black asphalt driveways, and so on. COPD is the third killer behind heart disease and cancer (also environmental) and we all need to just start saying ‘NO’ to chemicals. They’re as bad as Big Pharma, completely profit driven. I live near a watershed that is ‘impaired’ because of all the chemicals. I personally am tired of the elephant in this living room we call our planet. Time to wake up and smell the toxins!

      • We so agree. We are in central North Carolina. Ten years ago we had thousands of butterflies each year. We maintain habitat suitable to our favorite insects. The past five years we are lucky to see a few hundred. Our frog and toad population is in severe decline.

  28. 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

  29. 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!

  30. 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.

  31. 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.

  32. 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.

  33. 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.

  34. 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

  35. 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).

  36. 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.

  37. 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.

  38. 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.

  39. 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.

  40. 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… 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.

  41. 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!

  42. 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.

  43. 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?

  44. 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.

  45. 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

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

  48. 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!

  49. 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.

  50. 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.

  51. 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?

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

  53. 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.

  54. 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

  55. 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.

  56. 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.

  57. 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.

  58. 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.

  59. 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.

  60. 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.

  61. 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! ;)

  62. 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?

  63. Last year we had two youngish male cardinals at our feeders in Durham NC. One was almost completely bald and the other was partially so. They also had what seemed to be deformed feathers here and there on their bodies in no particular pattern. The feathers seemed small and twisted, sort of like cow-licks on our own heads. They seemed otherwise completely normal and I watched one of them feeding a youngster on the railing near our feeders. I did not see them during the winter or this spring.

  64. We have one in Burnsville MN, where we feed them at work. Female, and we call her scruffy mama. :)

    Also have had a black headed male at my house in Lakeville MN for the last couple of years. Always interesting to see, but never in the winters.

  65. Like others… In 2014 I had a male cardinal (at my feeder) that was featherless on its head. I thought it was a fluke and had some kind of disease. This summer (June 2015) I now have a male AND female that have slowly lost the feathers on their heads. They appear to be healthy in every other way. The featherless line stops right at their neck. In browsing the internet I find no clear answer as to why. If anybody finds the reason why and can offer a “cure” it let me know. (Columbus, Ohio)

  66. I have been photographing a pair of cardinals for over a year. Last year the male lost his head feathers and, as the summer progressed, his body began to look a little rough too. When the weather cooled, he feathered back up beautifully. This month the female lost her head feathers. I’m convinced it is an unusual molt. Both birds appear to be healthy, they have very healthy appetites. (Irmo, SC)

  67. We, too, have a totally bald male who we call Uncle Fester due to the feather cowl around the black featherless head. He’s been like this for a couple of months so molting just doesn’t seem to be a viable reason. He doesn’t have a mate and he always shows up before or after the other birds as other cardinals always chase him off if he’s around. Here in Knoxville, TN, our winters aren’t horrific but they can get quite cold at times and I’m worried that he might not be able to withstand the low temps. I’m encouraged to hear that others spotted have lasted more than one year. Considering it’s a national phenomenon, I’m surprised that we still don’t have a definitive cause for this.

  68. I’ve been photographing my cardinals for over a year now, a lovely couple I call Vincent and Georgia. Last year Vincent was completely bald and his body feathers were a bit ruffled. His mate was beautiful. By fall, Vincent completely refeathered. The new feathers were not as red but he looked completely normal. Both birds are going through a pretty significant molt right now but nowhere as severe as last year. They have become so comfortable with me photographing them, they perform regular “fly-bys”, some so close they can be a little intimidating. (Irmo, SC)

  69. I have been trying to identify this bird for several weeks. After reading this I realize that it is a bald male cardinal. It has a solid black skin head.

    • Hard to tell if it’s a mutation in coloring or loss of feathers. We live in DC and have a male cardinal with an extended mask (or “helmet”) going towards the top of his head. Earlier in the spring I thought he had lost an eye, but it was the increased black covering it. Looks like more black feathers, but hard to get a good look . Seems happy and eats well. Has anyone else noticed color changes not due to molting?

  70. While eating supper in the back yard tonight (Goshen, Indiana) and watching the birds eating supper at our feeders, I was telling my wife I saw a black-headed Cardinal. Just then he arrived! I immediately came inside and Googled it. After scanning the comments about chemicals, etc. in the environment, my question is – is this a recent phenomenon, or were black headed cardinals observed, say, 100 years ago?

  71. My reply after Nancy Z kept coming back with instructions to shorten so I kept deleting and getting same comment. Discovered all three attempts were sent but when I deleted two, nothing was posted. Will try again to get info re my male cardinal in D.C. who looks like he’s had a feather mutation or extended mask or “helmet”. I don’t see evidence of feather loss. In June it looked like his eye was missing but it was just covered by black feathers.


  72. We have had both male and female bald cardinals. 5 or 6 years I reported it to the local county agent and she said ,”it must be a new bread”. Apparently someone who also knew nothing. They have little ones and year after year there are more bald cardinals. Last year I even saw a bald blue jay. Someone told me people were letting their food get moldy, not a problem here. They finish it all everyday and get new every morning and sometimes afternoon. It would be a good thing if we could find the real cause.
    Not many butterflies here this year either and few bees. Only lots of flies of all sizes. Even black and white ones on my flowers. What are we doing wrong?

    • Edie,many people are reporting fewer butterflies and bees and several have reported less or no birds (as compared to years before). Something has happened in the last few years. And if it’s parasites causing Cardinals to be hairless (they are also responsible for killing our bees and bats) it has everything to do with their immune systems…a healthy animal does not succumb to outside organisms. And why is our wildlife unhealthy? Pollution. Toxins. Chemicals in our air and water. Bald Cardinals are not ‘normal’ or ‘ok’. This to me is just another indicator that something is very wrong…keep your eyes out…look for things amiss. If that doesn’t help change your buying habits nothing will. Choose to BE Chemical FREE!

  73. For those birdwatchers interested, I just receive a notice from Cornell Lab of Ornithology about a webinar tomorrow (August 26, 2015) beginning at 8:30 PM EDT. At the very beginning of the email was a photo of a Blue Jay missing most of the feathers from its head, and a caption below the photo reading, “What is wrong with this Blue Jay?”

    Might be a good time to bring up your questions and suggestions about the cause(s) of cardinal male/female baldness. Here is the link:

  74. We’ve had a bald cardinal here (Toronto, Ontario) this summer, something I’ve never seen before. I photographed him on August 1, when he had one or two small feathers on the top of his head, but since then there have been none. He has a mate, and has been diligent at feeding the teens from their first brood. This evening I noticed a younger cardinal who is also going bald. I haven’t seen that before, and I’ve been watching these birds a lot. As for butterflies, well, only 6 Monarchs this season so far. Maybe 6 Yellow Swallowtails, and perhaps 3 Red Admirals. A few small white moths, don’t know the species. Other than that, nothing. It is unsettling, to say the least. Even the bumblebees are few and far between. Glad to have come across this thread, though, and now know our bald cardinal is not alone!

  75. Just received the following response from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:

    The researchers cited in the article are correct. In most cases bald-headed birds (especially Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays) are the result of molting. Blue Jays actually normally molt in that pattern wherein they lose all their capital feathers simultaneously resulting in a bald head. That pattern of molt is also common enough in Northern Cardinals that it is considered within the normal range. For other species of birds, bald-headedness is usually caused by an abnormal molt; however, parasites such as mites and lice can cause a loss of feathers as well. We have an article about the phenomenon of bald-headed birds on our website:

  76. I’m tending to believe more in the mite theory because this is definitely spreading. We have 7 cardinals now in varied stages of baldness, both male and ⁣female. However, we also have at least one bald Bluejay and I just saw a very bald (head and back) Carolina Wren today. Knoxville, TN

  77. Early this summer I saw a bald cardinal in my rural backyard near Stillwater, Oklahoma. A few days later I found his dead body. Later, in late summer I saw a bald blue jay in the same yard. I also found his dead body a few days later. I’ve been watching backyard birds near both coasts and in middle America for over 40 years and have not observed anything like this before. Both birds were acting strangely, maybe shy or sick, when I saw them.

  78. I have also seen a bald headed male Cardinal at my backyard feeder this summer in Hendersonville, NC. Looks more blue headed than black. Thanks for the comments.

  79. I have a bald female Cardinal that feeds in our backyard. She looks like a mini-vulture and that is what I put into Google search to find your article.

  80. I have had a cardinal outside my window who has taken the tree as his territory. I first noticed him September 2012 when he began fighting himself in his reflection. I have been feeding him and watering him ever since. He has a mate and they are constantly at the feeder. Now have a couple more cardinals as there are feeders in the back too! I noticed this year I have a bald, male cardinal and one with grey feathers just above his eyes. I don’t think it’s my original cardinal. He’s a daily feeder but, not here all day. The females look fine. I have been trying to figure out if this was some kind of birth defect. I feed my cardinals Red Bird Seed, Publix brand. Has anyone figured out what’s going on to make these cardinals look like this? As far as I can tell, my original cardinal is just fine. I am in Nashville, TN.

  81. Little vultures is the perfect description. I was worried that were sick but they are eating and otherwise appear healthy. I’ve seen a couple that look this way at my feeders. Hope it is just an unusual molting pattern.

  82. I also have a bald male cardinal. He comes to my feeder everyday. I have two others looking a little different. One with grayish looking feather above his brow, one who looks as though he is on his way to becoming bald and wondering if they are molting. I am hoping they do not have mites. There is nothing I could do if they do. Are mites dangerous to their health? These seem healthy and are active. I live in Nashville TN.

  83. I stumbled on this site after just taking a photo of what I originally assumed to be a juvenile cardinal as my feeders are now filled with juvenile birds of all kinds. When I looked closely at my photo I was shocked at what I saw which lead me to google bald cardinals. I’m in Indianapolis, Indiana. I’m glad I have an awesome photo to prove it b/c I’m not sure people would believe me if I just described it. Hope it’s temporary for my beautiful red bird buddy.

  84. I’m seeing a few bald cardinals at my feeder here in Franklin, TN again this year as well. This anomaly started earlier than last year. My first sighting was near the end of May and seemed to worsen as the weather got warmer. I’ve also noticed what I could only describe as disheveled plumage on many others. As if they’re dealing with mites or some kind of skin irritation. I am not seeing the same kind of problem in any other birds that that visit – including blue jays, finches, wrens, thrashers, etc. Additionally, it seems to be female cardinals. I haven’t seen a bald male cardinal so far this year, but most certainly a few with ratty looking feathers.

  85. I have noticed some bald male and female Cardinals in my feeder for the past two years in South Carolina. It would be great if we were allowed to show photos in the comments

  86. We also saw a very red, male Cardinal with a green head at Lake Norman, Denver, NC on Sunday, July 31, 2016, and when googling it we found out that it is a Bald Cardinal. In 82 years we have never seen anything like this before, and we have taken note of almost every type bird that comes into our yard.

    • Dear Melvin & Anita,

      I live in the Charlotte area, too, down in Steele Creek near the SC border. Like yourselves, I’m an experienced birdwatcher. I’ve been seeing occasional “bald cardinals” around here for years now. I offered one theory for the condition in my “Rick B.” post back on 5/31/2014. Would be interested in your opinion about it.

      Rick B.

  87. Rick, We read your post from 2014, and your theory seems as logical as any, and moreso than most. I grew up near the Charlotte Airport and never saw any bird like this during those years. I drove a school bus in the Steele Creek area, and graduated Berryhill High School in the last class they ever had (1951). The next year they merged with Thomasboro and Paw Creek, into West Mecklenburg High. Melvin >

    • Like Rick, my posts date back to 2014. My baldy refeathered and I’m happy to say, he is still a regular at my feeder in Irmo, SC. I concluded “Vincent” suffered from an unusual molt pattern. First it was the head, then I saw saw changes in the feathers on his wings and body. Other than his unusual appearance, he seemed otherwise healthy. Today he is quite a beautiful bird.

  88. I am in New Jersey, south Jersey. I have been seeing bald male and female Cardinals for 2 years. Now This morning I saw a bald Blue Jay. Is there anything I can do to help these birds get better. Clean bird feeders??I see from all the post it is a big problem. I love seeing these birds in my yard and would hate to never see them again. If it is something I can change, or we can all change. Please let me know if there is some I can do in my yard to help.

  89. I’ve seen more bald cardinals this year than last and the malady began early in Spring. Moreover, at least 50% have molting issues. It’s been extremely hot here in Franklin, TN and I’m lead to wonder if that has contributed to the problem. I’ve also seen a few mockingbirds which appear to be suffering from the same thing. Though not bald, they look like they’re in rough shape. With the onset of cooler weather last Fall, bald Cardinals were no longer at my feeder. Either they grew their feathers back, left town or died, but all winter long I had beautiful looking birds. It’s worth noting I’ve never found a dead bald Cardinal. Leaving me to lean more in the direction of severe molting, brought on by abnormally hot and humid conditions.

  90. In the late winter, of 2013, one male cardinal, wasn’t allowed to eat with the others, in my back yard.(It backs to the woods.) Feeling sorry, for him, and thinking he was old, I tempted him, to the front of my home-with peanut butter. I started feeding him, twice a day-wild bird food/sunflower seeds; and some creamy p.b.; in which, he had a good appetite, as well. In about 3 months-his feathers were restored. He(“Old Man-Birdie), as I called him, was a young, handsome, bright-red, cardinal! I was really SHOCKED-that he was a young bird! He began, eating where he pleased; and, got himself a wife! Now, in Sept., 2016-it seems like, ALL, I see are balding cardinals-males AND females. They are fully-feathered, when they are very young; but by, maturity, their feathers go. They DO grow back-but it is sad, how the other birds treat them, when they’re defrocked. I am wondering…could this be a virus-from the peanut butter?!

  91. It’s 2017 and the bald cardinals are still showing up. This year at our feeder it is a female with the
    Her mate doesn’t seem to mind tho. He feeds her sunflower seeds every morning and she shows up
    often alone to feed.
    I am putting the condition down to mistimed molting–I hope–and by summer she will have a full
    head of feathers.
    vivian in Brampton Ontario Canada

  92. I have a cardinal pair that have not exhibited feather loss, however, I have a squirrel and a raccoon that have signs of hair loss. I am feeding black oiler sunflower seeds from Home Depot I’m beginning to wonder if its the seeds. < Wasn't there a recall on sunflower seeds earlier this year ? >

    • Hello Deb, I’m in Indy and had a bald cardinal last year which is how I found this article. I’ve not seen any bald cardinals this year but I have a completely bald squirrel. She seems to slowly be growing hair again which looks like peach fuzz all over. It’s the saddest thing yet she seems to be thriving. I searched out answers on squirrel baldness and most articles said it is more common than you would think. Sometimes it is stress and often it is mange and/or bacteria however most will grow the hair back eventually. I’ve been feeding her extra peanuts b/c I feel so sad for her but I think I’m more upset about it than she is! I don’t believe it has anything to do with your sunflower seeds but I’m no expert.

  93. I have seen this on Blue Jays in my yard, but last weekend I saw a Cardinal at a city park with it. It is rather distressing to see.

  94. I also have a bald male cardinal and just realized he was bald yesterday. I thought it was just discolored and couldn’t decide if he was male or female. I also saw him (or maybe another) with this same condition either last winter or last summer. It’s very distressing to look at and I’m wondering if the earlier diatomaceous earth suggestion would work. As he is completely bald on his head and the remainder of his body looks fine I assume this is a parasite problem or an injury as earlier suggested.

  95. stagecoach! I live in Newalla OKLA and Iam impressed with all of the Birders ,who have the same redbird problem that being (balding) Iam going to try the DE solution will keep you posted

  96. I have males that look scruffy and think it’s molt. I have a completely naked headed female. She is a voracious feeder and right in the thick of it at the feeders. If it is mites causing her baldness will she pass them on to other birds?

  97. I’ve had a completly bald male cardinal all summer. He had a little more of his crest early on, but it just about gone now.
    I saw this on a crow a few years ago and unfortunately found it dead in that fall. My wife called it Jeckyl and it used to come to her for food. It didn’t seem to associate with other crows that came to my yard.
    Had another crow last year that was bald on one side of its head. Haven’t seen that one in quite a while – don’t know what happened to it,
    I’m on the Ma. coast.

  98. We too have bald birds, I have caught on numerous occasions the bluejays bashing in with their beaks the skulls of baby sparrows, I am betting they do it to other baby birds too, aka Cardinals.

  99. I’m in Chesapeake, VA and have my first bald male cardinal, “Frankenbird”. My first thought was mites of some type. I was hoping after reading some of the posts here that it was some type of molt, but then yesterday I saw a pair of blue jays I hadn’t seen in awhile and they are both starting to bald on their heads. That seems a little too coincidental to me. I think I’m going to try the DE solution as well.

    • Here’s an article on this subject from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, experts on birds. They think the problem is due to unusual molting, and that new feathers should grow back shortly:

  100. Hi, in my case I have a vulture looking red Robin. He has been bald since 5 months now and am worried. This little fellow was saved from death when He was about three weeks old. Someone had cut all his flight feathers. I took him in and gave him a second chance. He was Molting regularly for the first three years but now he doesn’t seam to have any regrowing. I would like to know if it’s possible he got parasites from bird seeds. I do give him some plus meal worms all sorts of fruits arugula sprouted beans etc…he sometimes steals my food. Anyways what can I try to help him. Thank you.

    • A response from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology:
      The researchers cited in the article are correct. In most cases bald-headed birds (especially Northern Cardinals and Blue Jays) are the result of molting. Blue Jays actually normally molt in that pattern wherein they lose all their capital feathers simultaneously resulting in a bald head. That pattern of molt is also common enough in Northern Cardinals that it is considered within the normal range. For other species of birds, bald-headedness is usually caused by an abnormal molt; however, parasites such as mites and lice can cause a loss of feathers as well. We have an article about the phenomenon of bald-headed birds on our website:

  101. Thank-you so much for your quick reply. I will read this asap. And will let you know if my little red Robin refeathers soon.
    Tanya D

  102. We have a male Cardinal with a completely bald head, second year in a row. We call him Igor. Perryville, MD, near the Chesapeake Bay and Susquehanna River.

  103. I live in Tyler Texas. I have had a completely bald Cardinal feeding here for 2 years. He’s accustomed to me. I can hand feed him, but I rarely do. He has a mate and they have a nest here on my property. He is very competitive with the other cardinals when they attempt to set up camp in his territory. Two weeks ago, he flew into my window and knocked himself out cold. I thought for sure he was dead, but wasn’t sure so I put him in a carrier in my garage just in case I was wrong. He was unconscious for about 15 minutes and then he woke up and was moving slow for about an hour or two. When he was back to his chipper self and was strong enough to go crazy when I got too close to the carrier, I let him go. He’s back to normal with his partner again. When he was unconscious, I had a chance to look him over thoroughly. I know for a fact he doesn’t have a mite infestation. Also, he
    Doesn’t appear to have a skin disorder, no lesions. The bald skin on his head is perfectly smooth and flawless. You’d think there would be large pores where feathers once grew or where they were supposed to grow in the future, but his skin is porcelain smooth. I’m leaning toward genetic molting flaw. I’m surprised his mom didn’t detect his abnormality and refuse to care for him. I’m equally surprised he has a mate, Given the process of natural selection. His mate overlooked his bald head. Which leads me to believe that maybe it’s not so unnatural after all. Why would a female cardinal approve of such an important feature with so many other males to choose from? Only makes sense to me that it’s not
    so abnormal. What if it’s not a flaw in the bird world. What if it’s a positive thing for some reason? Who knows, I love my bald cardinal and hope he lives a long productive life here in my back yard.

  104. We have a male cardinal with a completely black bald head. He is shy with other birds and only comes to the feeders when other birds aren’t around. It’s sad to look at, (you can see their huge ears below their eyes) but I don’t believe it’s the food. We give black sunflower seeds, peanuts and safflower seeds all from a reliable source. Am guessing it’s a molting issue but it saddens me that he’s so shy around the other birds. I’ve read this as being common on other sites as well. Am in Orlando.

  105. A beautiful male cardinal in our yard has no crest! He has beautiful red feathers all over his head, but his head is round and smooth. What causes the crest to be absent even though his head is still covered with red feathers?

  106. I’m not sure about molt, not to say that it could not be the cause at times. But I do know from raising cockatiels for the last 30 years is that they tend to “hen peck” each other. Male or female. It seems to be the only place on a birds body that they cannot reach so their mate will preen them to the point of pulling all of their feathers out. In my cockatiels, who are very healthy yet no feathers at all on the head and neck, the feathers often do not grow back. Or, as soon as they do the mate is pulling them out again. I know that Cardinals pair for life. It could very well be attributable to the mate.

  107. I’m in Northeast Ohio and have a bald cardinal that visits. I believe he is the same bird that was here last year. He has been bald since spring and it does NOT look like feathers are returning….his neck is now bald. If this is a illness or parasite of some type, is there any type of supplement that I could add to his seed just to cover all the bases? He is always a busy bird and appears to be in good spirits.

  108. Over the past few years, I have witnessed this regularly here in middle Tennessee. It seems to have started a little earlier this year, but by Fall it usually always goes away. The comments on this forum have indicated consistently this is normal moulting and I believe that is exactly what you are witnessing.

  109. We are seeing a black headed or balding male Cardinal this summer in St. Anthony Village/Minneapolis, MN. Follows us around the yard like the fully crested Cardinal we have had hanging around in previous years, so I am thinking it is the same Cardinal. I have never seen this before. Seems healthy and normal otherwise. But I do find all the sightings, all the occurrences, being shared here, a bit alarming. Live near a lake, so the Frog and Toad population around my yard is good. Dragonfly population is large. Many flying grasshoppers. Bee population seems okay, but haven’t seen that many butterflies this year.

  110. We have a completely bald female Cardinal at our feeders this spring in Iowa City, Ia. I have never seen this before and I’ve been watching Cardinals in our back yard for 20 years! It’s quite alarming to see, however she seems healthy otherwise.

  111. I’ve been noticing this phenomena for the past 4 years here in Nashville. I too have seen a couple bald Cardinals at my feeder already. Usually it starts with warmer weather and all explanations I’ve read point to moting. However, I’ve never seen it this early in the year.

  112. We’ve fed birds for many years – mostly the black oiled sunflower seeds.
    We have NEVER seen bald cardinals until last summer and it looks as though it’s the same one.
    I’m a physician – so really know absolutely nothing about bald birds!
    But in our neighborhood EVERYONE is getting the chemical mosquito net put on their lawns.
    Bees – gone
    Butterflies – gone
    Cardinals – bald?

  113. I’ve just noticed this bald little guy (girl?) at my feeder. I came across this feed as I was trying to figure out what’s wrong with him. I wish I could attach a video. I have a birdfeeder with a built in camera and I can see very vividly.


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