Great Blue Heron’s Gorgeous Wings Akimbo in Molt

Question: How do great blue herons fly when they’re molting?

Answer: Awkwardly.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron molting.

Some birds molt by dropping most of their feathers at the same time, and then go into hiding while the new feathers are coming in.

As you can see from the top photo, this young great blue heron has only dropped a full layer of wing feathers already. For comparison, the photo here below shows the intact wing feathers.

© Babsje (

Great blue heron wings for comparison with wings in molt.

It was a treat to observe the molting young great blue heron that summer. Birds in molt tend to make themselves scarce, hiding away until they have regained solid flight, to keep safe from predators. This young heron chose my favorite cove as a hideout, and so I was able to photograph for a couple of weeks, well-hidden in a natural-cover blind along the shore.

The heron was able to fly while missing that layer of feathers, but lifting off and gaining altitude seemed slow and clumsy compared to the heron’s usual gracefulness. Coming in for a landing was also awkward – with fewer heathers to act as “brakes.” If you look closely at the top photo here, you can see that the heron’s neck and head feathers are all erect. That isn’t a configuration that’s part of their usual landing, and I had the impression that the bird was straining to use all of its feathers – even neck feathers – to land.

Great blue herons have special downy feathers that crumble and create a powdery substance they use to clean their other feathers. While the powder down feathers are most comminly mentioned as occurring on the heron’s chest, I believe that the bright white bands you see in the top photo give a good look at other layers of these special feathers.


Thanks once more to Prairiebirder Charlotte for her Feathers on Friday prompt.

Thanks to Sara Rosso and WordPress for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Layers.

Thanks once again to Stewart Moncton for the Wild Bird Wednesday prompt.

Thanks to the kind folks at NaBloPoMo for the National Blog Posting Month challenge this November.


A selection of my heron and flower photos is now available at the Five Crows Gallery in Natick, MA. Drop in and see the work of the many wonderfully creative artists who show there when you’re in the area.

Remember: Walk softly and carry a long lens.™

The Tao of Feathers™

(These photos were taken in June 2007 and July 2010.)

© 2013 Babsje. (

Great Blue Heron, Molt

Posted on November 22, 2013, in ardea herodias, Art, Birds, Feathers on Friday, Great Blue Heron, NaBloPoMo, Nature, Nature Photography, Photography, postaday, Weekly Photo Challenge, Wild Bird Wednesday, Wildlife Photography and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. Ooh, not a pretty sight. I would go into hiding, too. 🙂 I have never seen this before.

    • Thanks, Bob. I don’t think many people have had a chance to observe the molt in detail, as the herons, like many birds, do tend to hide. I found it fascinating to watch this bird flying, it looked rather uncoordinated.

  2. Great photos and happy Friday!

  3. Such fascinating pics and information. Babsje. I’ve never seen this before. Maybe my GBH molts whilst I’m away. 🙂

  4. Very interesting. I don’t think I knew that herons molt. Do all/most birds molt?

  5. Very interesting information! I had no idea that herons molt, word that I had no idea what it meant either! Do all the birds molt?

  6. Well, that could definitely be a pain in the heron’s neck, literally. Very interesting!

  7. even they have thier bad hair days-lol..great study:-)

  8. That can be a dangerous moment

  9. I assume they molt in August when it’s hottest like Baldies? Baldies do not go and hide however. When your the toughest kid on the block I guess you don’t have too much to worry about.

    • Yes you’re right. August. And your apex predator Bald Eagles have no need to hide during their molt. Humans seem to be their chief source of danger (apart from Nature’s own doings or other Eagles?) Best, Babsje

  1. Pingback: Feathers on Friday | Prairie Birder

  2. Pingback: Beautiful Great Blue Heron’s Transformation (Not Art Nbr 14) | Babsje Heron

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