During spring birds certainly put on a good show. At first we enjoy the cacophony of bird song surrounding us during the breeding season. Then we can spend time watching busy parent flying back and forth to their hungry chicks from dawn ‘til dusk. Finally there’s the joy of seeing fluffy little fledglings taking their first flight into the world. By the summer we have got used to regularly seeing birds on our feeders and in hedgerows and then they suddenly disappear!
At this time of year people often wonder where all the birds have gone and are concerned they may have been predated or wiped out by a disease. In reality nothing quite so dramatic has happened. The birds are still around; they are just hiding away whilst they spruce themselves up ready for winter.
Feathers aren’t indestructible. They get damaged, discoloured and weaken during a bird’s busy year. So after a while worn out feathers need to be replaced. This is a natural process called moulting.
August is primetime for bird moulting. Replacing all your feathers is an extremely energy draining experience so birds save it for when they are less stressed – after breeding and before migration. August is also very warm so the birds don’t get too cold and there is still plenty of protein rich food about.
The feathers don’t all fall out at once. This would leave birds unable to fly and very, very cold! Instead each feather is gradually replaced one by one. During the moult birds have less energy and it’s much harder for them to fly. This makes them very vulnerable to predators so they spend most of their time hidden in vegetation trying to be as inconspicuous as possible.
Most garden birds take about 6 to 8 weeks to completely moult. During this time you can do your bit to help them by providing high energy food in feeders and on the ground near to shrubs and hedgerows where birds may be sheltering. A supply of clean fresh water is vitally important in the hot weather, not only for drinking but also to keep their feathers in good condition by bathing.