Ducks Without Feathers [When It is Normal And When It Is Not]

Hairstyles come and go, everyone knows this. But amidst all this change, one hairstyle is a constant, steadfast, stalwart, (and other synonyms as well) classic: the comb-over.

It’s true, as long as there have been men, there have been men who are struggling to deal with the realities of a receding hairline.

From the hours spent in front of a mirror trying to convince yourself that your forehead has always been that big, to the YouTube videos teaching creative combing techniques, to the internet blog posts proselytizing the “miracle cure” of the mixture of snake oils and the ignored tears of a middle child (OK I made that last bit up), those of us who are follicularly challenged know the struggle.

And it turns out, this problem is so pervasive it exceeds the human race. Ducks also deal with the loss of their hair…well feathers, not hair, but that’s pretty much the same thing, right?

Y​es, ducks can lose their feathers, but it is not always a bad thing. There is a normal form of feather loss: molting, but there are other forms of feather loss that are not so normal.

S​o if you’re a duck, and you’ve noticed that your forehead looks like it’s getting bigger, the top of your head is starting to get sunburned when you float around on the pond, or whatever the duck version of either of those experiences are…you’ve come to the right article.

The Normal Kind: Molting

I​t is normal for ducks to molt multiple times a year. Ducks have evolved to adjust the timing and frequency of their molts depending on factors such as species, location, gender, and level of domestication.

the normal kind molting

L​et’s take mating season for instance, which usually takes place in late spring/early summer. During mating season, male ducks grow colorful plumage to attract mates.

I​f you ever venture into Dallas, Texas, you will see a bunch of guys wearing giant, impractical, cowboy hats paired with cowboy boots made from the skin of an endangered animal from the African Safari, and you’ll realize that male ducks are not the only species to dress up in absurd styles to attract a mate…but I digress.

The male duck’s plumage is great at attracting attention from mates, but it works a little too well because it also attracts attention from something else: predators. I mean, a neon green bird is kind of hard to miss when you think about it.

Because of this, male ducks keep their bright plumage only long enough to attract a mate, and what do they do once mating season is over? They molt!

Y​es, they lose their fancy getup and trade it for a color scheme that is more suited to protective camouflage.

T​his process usually takes a few weeks and produces a muted coloring that is called “eclipse plumage.”

During this process, ducks are consistently losing their feathers, so much so, wild ducks lose their ability to fly while they are waiting for their next coat to grow in. This makes the camouflaged coloring of the eclipse plumage particularly important.

But when mating season rolls back around again, these ducks once again trade their eclipse plumage for their proverbial cowboy-hat-plumage through an early-spring molt.

T​his cyclical molting process of replacing old plumage with new plumage is very normal and expected for all ducks.

So, if you’re a duck and you’ve noticed that you are starting to lose some feather density, don’t panic quite yet. In fact, there is a decent chance you’re about to meet “the one.”

But there are other reasons for ducks to lose their feathers, and unlike molting, they are not normal and are usually not healthy.

The Abnormal Kinds: Duck Bullies Exist

Though the majority of feather loss suffered by ducks is the result of the molting process, ducks can also lose their feathers due to disease, stress, parasitic infection, environmental changes, and even bullying.

duck bullies

Y​es, duck bullies are a real thing, but anyone who has ever visited a public park with a pond and tried to eat some chips knows the depths of aggression that exist in duck bullies.

Aggressive ducks often peck at their fellow ducks and rip out their feathers to the point where the abused duck is left bleeding.

It is normal for female ducks to have a bloody bald spot on the back of their necks during mating season. Aggressive male ducks will bite the necks of the female duck to steady themselves during the mating process.

Ducks also can lose their feathers because of parasitic infections of mites on their skins. Though to be fair, since watching the premier of The Last of Us on HBO, if I’m going to have a parasitic infection, I would rather it be the skin-mite-feather-loss kind, as opposed to the fungus-zombie-monster kind.

These mites are often the result of an unclean habitat and can damage the root of a ducks feathers causing them to fall out alongside pretty significant skin irritation.

Stress has also been known to cause ducks to lose their feathers. This stress can come from changing environments, a lack of food, an influx of predators, or any number of factors.

T​here are also times when ducks do not lose their feathers in a literal sense, but their feathers lose their function, forcing the duck to live as though they didn’t have feathers.

T​his condition is called “Wet Feather” and is the result of waterlogged feathers that can no longer repel water or provide buoyancy, rendering them more burden than benefit.

This is normally a big problem for the duck, as it leaves them prone to sickness while they are drying out. Though it wasn’t a problem for Bee the duck (what an incredible name), whose family made her a perfect raincoat, so she would be protected from the rain.

I​f you have time, that video will brighten your day, guaranteed.

S​o if you are a duck who is losing feathers, don’t panic, but get checked. Take a clean shower, and maybe go on a relaxing vacation to de-stress.

Y​our feathers will grow back, but in the meantime, you could rock a comb-over.

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