Plumage-challenged Chukar

Prepare yourself.  A couple of these shots won’t be easy on the eyes…

Around here Chukars are now beginning to molt and the process lasts through much of October.  But the molt “symptoms” that you see in individual birds vary dramatically throughout  the entire summer.


chukar 7445 ron dudley

I took this shot of a Chukar on Antelope Island two days ago.  I include it here as a comparison to the next image of a different bird which was taken yesterday morning.



chukar 7734b ron dudley


I’ve seen many thousands of Chukars over the years but I’ve never seen one quite this hammered, even during the molt.  For some reason the molt often seems to occur more abruptly on the back of the lower neck but in my experience this is an extreme case.



chukar 7719 ron dudley

A closer view at a slightly different angle.


This bird seemed vigorous, healthy and active.  It was calling and acting normally.  I suspect that what we see here is only molting but must admit to some curiosity about other possibilities – fighting, disease and mites come to mind.

So, knowing that many of you (rehabbers, falconers and others) have much more experience than I with molting, injured and/or sick birds I’m wondering if some might care to speculate (or outright diagnose) what’s going on with this pathetic looking creature.

I’ll confess that I laughed out loud when I first saw this bird through my viewfinder but then I began to have some serious empathy for it.

Thanks in advance for any thoughts on the matter.


17 comments to Plumage-challenged Chukar

  • Patty Chadwick

    OK.This is what really happened. I think this chukar is a redneck (they’re pretty popular on TV these days), he got into a brawl with Big Bird, lost, is a bad sport, and is crying fowl…now we can allrest in peace.

  • Mikal Deese, CWR

    Humm, curious indeed. I’ve had “pet” Chukars that lived through several molts, but none ever looked like that. Interesting that the upper back feathers look so raggedy, but the flank feathers seem fine. Leaves me wondering about rough sex! On the other hand, when I saw the males fight, they were ritualistic, circling each other then lunging for the back of the opponent’s neck. Vicious! Maybe this is the big loser, who was repeatedly stomped and plucked.

  • It looks nearly as sad as our cockatoos who are suffering from ‘beak and feather’ disease. I really, really hope that it is a moult, and the bird recovers fully. Beak and feather disease is fatal and incurable. The beak keeps growing leaving them unable to feed, drink or groom themselves. Often they have no feathers on their heads or breasts. We do get affected birds visiting from time to time. When we can we catch them and have them euthenased rather than leaving them to die a slow and difficult death.

  • There are a good number of pin feathers growing in along the neck and ridges, which makes me suspect either molt, mating, or that this bird got away from a predator. Some birds are like lizards (think juncos or doves or robins, some of whom have white spots on the end of outer tail feathers to encourage a predator to grab there, then they drop the feathers ) and use lightly attached feathers as a get-away plot. But the nape is a weird area … reminds me a bit of raped mallard ducks, from where males trying to mate with them are hanging on, though that can result in outright sores, which this isn’t. Since chukar males and females are similar, maybe this bird lost feathers in this location while mating? But bizarre molt patterns can happen – the cardinals which have been mentioned, some of our owls that will lose a lot of their facial feathers all at once and look REALLY weird, or our pygmy owls which some years molt their whole tail at once, or the magpies I’ve had that will literally go bald and then grow their head feathers back in … these are all captive birds and we watch them carefully for mites and lice … but I don’t know if their wild compadres ever experience the same thing or this is an artifact of captivity. Have you ever seen a bald magpie, Ron?

    • I was hoping you’d weigh in on this, Louise. I guess we’ll never know for sure what’s going on with this bird. I’ve never seen a completely bald magpie but it’s been close. They really look scroungy for a while, the head in particular. Makes me wonder what birds say about me – I’m mostly bald ALL of the time…

  • I am no expert, but when I look at the close-up photo, I don’t see anything that looks like wounds, ugly as that bare area is. Because of that I would tend to think it is molting. I hope the feathers regrow fast, or that he takes Patty Chadwick’s advice about summer garb!

  • Once every couple of years my cardinals get like that … I was told it was mites and that they would be fine as soon as the weather got cold again. Of course, I have no way of knowing … but I do hope that’s true.

  • tana

    Thank you for this laugh, I needed it. But I do hope there is nothing really wrong with the bird.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I think that dude should use sunscreen, get himself one of those caps or hats that has a piece of sun-blocking cloth hanging down in the back (or a sombrero)…and start wearing sunglasses.

  • Patty Chadwick

    I’ve recently heard of “bald” cardinals, and may have gotten a glimpse o of one a week or so ago, but this looks raw–interesting, but YUK!!! Poor thing…wonder if it gets sunburn…Thanks for including something like this in with all the beautiful stuff. Ancient as I am, learning anything new, especially about the natural world, is still exciting. I had no idea that normal molting, if this is normal molting, could be so extreme..I’ve known of parrots to pull out almost all of their own feathers and chickens to pick on and pluck a hapless fellow flock member…Would you call this “Featherless Fotography”?

    • Patty, I suppose it’s possible that this could be the result of fighting. Their agonistic behavior is vicious – something I’ve seen several times. But I’m still leaning toward molting at this point…

  • Charalotte Norton

    Very interesting. We ha a female Cardinal the other day in our yard with no feathers on her head, When nI looked it up on the internet, it aid it was molt and that the bird would be OK. I hope the same is true for the Chukar.
    Charlotte Norton