Fellows shed their feathered finery

2008-03-01 00:00

How lucky that there aren’t too many mirrors in nature. If there were, moulting birds might go into spirals of depression or become totally anti-social while they lost their breeding beauty, feather by feather.

Spare a thought for the male Spotted-backed Weavers right now. Instead of showing their bright yellow heads and smart black masks, they are becoming spotty while they slowly don drab female dress in readiness for the restful non-breeding season.

I hope the females do not titter and smirk from the safety of a nearby shrub as the erstwhile macho, gorgeously attired guys morph quietly into a bunch of testosterone-free and drab boys. I am told (by a macho male) that this is the only way they can get respite from the frenzied attention of the ladies. Who’s to argue?

The process of moulting is one of nature’s marvels. Obviously a bird’s feathers must be in tip-top condition most of the time; if its feathers are not in good shape, it cannot fly well and it follows that it cannot find enough food or a mate, or escape predators, or keep warm. The big wing-feathers, the flight feathers, are dropped one at a time (from each side at the same time). When the new one is about half-grown the next one falls out, and so on, until all the feathers are new and strong. The body feathers are not moulted in such a strict order and many more than one can be shed at a time.

The whole process takes five weeks on average and at the end of it every feather has been replaced with a sturdy new one. This is the reason that birds never appear to age in the sense that we do — they never look grey and old and worn, but forever young and spry. For in the bird world you are either a chipper, fully functioning flying machine or you are dead. Ponder on that if you will.

Near-panic set in when I went to my local supermarket and found the shelf usually reserved for digestive bran filled with rows of something else. This “used-to-be-cheap” stuff — the residue of the refining process, dry brown flakes that my meal-worms live in and live off — was out of stock.

Thoughts of famine — skinny anorexic worms, and worse, disappointed birds — filled my head. What could I use as a substitute? Would the wrigglies cope with raw breakfast oats or would wholewheat flour be better? Luckily the delightful attendant assured me that stocks of the required bran were in fact already in the shop, simply not unpacked. Whew, what a relief! I returned later and bought so much digestive bran that the amazed attendant inquired whether I was a health fanatic or baking many muffins. The truth would simply have been too difficult to explain, so I left quietly, clutching my packets, before she called the men in white.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.