Day Seven — For the Birds

Most mornings, I eat my breakfast in the company of our bald cardinal, who lives in the side yard, and has recently been seen in the company of a lady cardinal.  She apparently agrees with Patrick Stewart fans that bald is sexy.

I, however, can’t get past the fact that he looks like the bird version of the hunchback of Notre Dame.  I spent Day Seven, (when I wasn’t sitting on the front porch in that most pleasant of occupations, yakking with friends and children) trying to figure out what went wrong for this poor bird.

As it turns out, nothing.  According to the experts at BirdWatching, some cardinals, male and female, molt their head feathers all at once.  Can you imagine?  One day, you’re singing your heart out in the trees, raising your crest at all the lesser birds, floofing your feathers in the sure knowledge that you’re more beautiful than everyone.  The wife nips out for a few sunflower seeds, and when she comes back, you’re Bronko Nagurski.

Worse, from a cardinal point of view, you could be losing your feathers because you have (insert lowered voice and embarrassed tone here) feather mites.  Feather mites look like tiny ticks.  They drill holes in the shaft of the feather, and then eat it from the inside out.  They lay a lot of eggs, too, so it doesn’t take long for one mite to turn into a whole birdful of mites.  Some feather mites are blood suckers, so an infected bird can actually get woozy from blood loss. 

If Bronko has feather mites, we’re going to have a very hard time diagnosing him.  One website I consulted seriously suggested looking for “small holes along the shaft of the feather.”  Let’s see, first of all, Bronko has lost almost every head feather he had, and second, I doubt that he’s going to hold still to let anyone inspect the ones he has left. I’ll bet even Mrs. Bronko has to steer clear.

It’s not like there’s a good cure, either.  One can purchase a specially formulated feather-mite-icide, but then what?  Bronko isn’t likely to stand still while we spray him, “paying particular attention to the head and beak areas.”  We aren’t going to induce him to bathe more, either, and forget giving him anti-feather-mite-drops.

Of course, if he’s just molted suddenly, his feathers will grow back in a few more weeks.  I sincerely hope this happens, because I worry about him.  What if he’s still bald when the weather turns cold?  Am I going to have to spend my remaining days learning to knit some kind of bird toboggan to keep his ears warm?  And if I do, will Mrs. Bronko be able to persuade him to wear it?


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