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Nature & You: Have you seen baldheaded birds in your backyard?

Don't be alarmed if you see this baldheaded bird in your backyard. [Photo provided by Missouri Department of Conservation]

Don't be alarmed if you see this baldheaded bird in your backyard. [Photo provided by Missouri Department of Conservation]

Have you seen baldheaded birds in your backyard?

Almost every summer, without fail, I end up fielding a lot of questions about some weird-looking birds that are showing up at home backyard bird feeding stations. I'd chance to guess that you might have had an experience as I have described.

It's oh-so-easy to empathize with these people, because the bird they are telling me about is one grotesque-appearing creature. It's a cardinal, of that there can be no mistake; the prominent red feathers make it look like no other bird. However, there is the notable exception that this individual has a naked head. The head is just bare, black-colored skin; the usual cloak of red plumage is missing from this particular bird's noggin. Frankly, it is a very alarming sight!

What gives?

Fortunately, I can calm your fears. It is really nothing to be too concerned about. Oh, sure, it looks bizarre, but I can tell you that it is just a superficial, cosmetic thing.

Some cardinals just have the bad luck to get hit with an extremely large infestation of feather mites. These little "bugs" chow down on bird feathers and do not really impact the overall health of their host. At summer's end, the return of cold air temperatures will send the feather mite populations into a nose dive, and their host will then be afforded the opportunity to grow out a bunch of new replacement feathers.

In the preceding paragraphs, I've attempted to paint a word picture of this phenomenon. If that left you confused or uncertain, you might want to do an internet search for "photos of bald cardinals." Take a look at the pics, and you will see what I mean.

"A picture is worth a thousand words," as some wise person once said.

— Neil Garrison, NewsOK Contributor

Neil Garrison was the longtime naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center.

Neil Garrison

Neil Garrison is an outdoor nature enthusiast. He is a graduate of Oklahoma State University/Stillwater; he earned a B.S. degree in Wildlife Ecology. Prior to his 2009 retirement, he was the Naturalist at a central Oklahoma nature center for 30... Read more ›

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