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Local Birds Are Changing Clothes

This male great-tailed grackle is in breeding plumage.
This male great-tailed grackle is in breeding plumage.

Three common birds to this area are taking on a new look. Their appearance is changing due to the molting process. Molt is the process by which a bird renews its plumage. The plumage of a bird is vital to its survival. Feathers serve as insulation, transportation, protection and identity for the bird.

Great-tailed grackles that pride themselves on their regal appearance now resemble black chickens. During mating season male grackles can be seen strutting around females showing off their beautiful tail feathers. Now they are seen without tail feathers. Most birds molt tail feathers from the center first and continue to each side. They replace the pairs of feathers before shedding any more. Great-tailed grackles loose all of their tail feathers at once.

Male house sparrows are also taking on a different look. Their bib will appear shorter and lighter after a fall molt making them look more like females. This is because the new feathers of the bib contain gray tips. These tips will break off during winter months making the bib longer and blacker for breeding season.

Male house sparrows display for the females with their chest thrust forward to show off the black patch. Research has shown that male house sparrows with larger chest patches are more successful at attracting females.

European starlings that a few weeks ago had an oily greenish black breast and yellow bill now appear in their new molt with an intricately spotted breast and darker bill.