Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted)

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The results of the Most Explosive Northern Cardinal Molt of 2008 in Central Park are in. Papa Museum wins the competition hands, er, feathers down.

Image: Bob Levy, author of Club George [larger].

The photographer, Bob Levy, writes;

Note: No cardinals were injured in this competition. Hey, I know he looks like an explosion in a mattress factory but it is a “natural” occurrence.

Also Note: There wasn’t a large number of competitors. Actually, it only included the six males I regularly observe but that does not detract from the arresting state of this fellow’s plumage does it?

And One Note More: Last year was first time I noticed a molting cardinal undergoing such a dramatic molt. That bird was Papa Meadow who held a different territory than this year’s winner. At the time I thought it must be a predisposition of that particular bird but now that I have found another male that has exhibited a similar trait I guess it’s more common than I assumed. It’s possible that last years male changed his territory but I doubt it. I have not read a description of a bird like this elsewhere. I wonder if this condition could be limited to this specific Central Park population? Hmm. Could you let me know if you have observed a Northern Cardinal in a similarly “explosive” state at this time of year.


  1. #1 natural cynic
    August 28, 2008

    Sometimes you just have a Bad Feather Day.

  2. #2 apikoros
    August 28, 2008

    I am always amazed when I see birds in mid-molt flying around quite happily with half their feathers gone… I was always under the impression that a tail was neccesary to a bird for control, but don’t tell that to the local sparrows!

  3. #3 The Ridger
    August 28, 2008

    This isn’t a molt (probably) but it’s a startling state of plumage for a cardinal nonetheless: bald cardinal

  4. #4 bob levy
    August 30, 2008

    Holey Moley! I saw your bald cardinal photos. Do you think the Bosley system advertized on cable TV could help this fellow? Wow.

  5. #5 renee
    August 5, 2009

    theres a cardinal who comes to my feeder out back, with a severe molt, he has no feathers on his little head, I call him my lil red baldy,
    can anyone tell me why this happens to them? is it like old age or something, or do they get a new coat?

  6. #6 Alex Grim
    May 24, 2010

    I’m not sure, but I think this photo at my backyard feeder is a cardinal in molt.

  7. #7 Alex Grim
    May 24, 2010

    I forgot to paste in the photo link:

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