Facts about the animal kingdom

Do Featherless Birds Exist?

Anaëlle Laurent
By Anaëlle Laurent. June 22, 2020
Do Featherless Birds Exist?

Birds are endothermic vertebrates that come in all different shapes and sizes. Their main characteristic is the fact that their bodies are covered in feathers. However, many people ask themselves if featherless birds exist.

While some species of birds are already born without feathers, others are born with some feathers or even enough feathers to protect their body. In this AnimalWised article we will uncover if featherless birds exist, as well as give examples with photos.

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  1. Are there featherless birds?
  2. Examples of featherless birds
  3. Featherless birds from other causes

Are there featherless birds?

Feathers, like a mammal's hair, fulfil various functions. This includes includes thermoregulation and protection, allowing them to fly and, during the reproductive season it allows them to court. It also facilitates recognition between individuals of the same species and also allows them to camouflage themselves against predators.

When it comes to birds, their feathers are distributed and grow in specific areas (pteriles or feathery areas). They're also interspersed in areas where they do not grow, called apterils. In other words, there are different types of feathers and all birds have them. Some species may lack some feathers on their head or other specific areas of their body but they always present some type of feathers.

So, are there are featherless birds in the wild? No, all wild birds have some type of feather at some part of their body. In fact, birds cannot fly without feathers. This is because feathers provide them with enough surface to generate lift to glide. Adults shed their plumage at least once a year, that is, they lose and replace some or all of their feathers and generally do so after the breeding season.

There are species that may lack some feathers on their head. In other birds, the males do not have feathers on the chest and it is "naked" to exhibit a very bright color in order to attract females during the reproductive season. In the case of other birds, they lose their feathers of the ventral zone to incubate the eggs.This region is called the "incubation patch" and is well supplied with blood vessels. Here the epidermis is very thin and fat is removed, making it possible for birds to better transfer heat to their eggs while hatching.

You may also be interested in this other article where we show you a list of animals with scales.

Examples of featherless birds

As we mentioned, birds naturally have feathers covering their body and, in some cases, naturally or due to some condition, they may lack them in some region of the body. There are also some birds that have feathers very similar to hairs, which leads to the belief that they lack them. Let's see some examples:

Kiwi (Apteryx)

The kiwi (birds of the genus Apteryx ) is a flightless bird that has very little wing development and is almost negligible. This is an example of a bird that was often thought to have no feathers, but in reality it is small down that did not develop due to evolutionary reasons and adaptation to the ecosystem where they live, which gives them the appearance of bristles. They are brown in color, with different shades depending on the species in question. Learn more on our article about caring for kiwis.

Do Featherless Birds Exist? - Examples of featherless birds


Some species of vultures (of the order Cathartiformes), such as the torgo vulture, do not have feathers on their heads. This is due to the adaptation to the type of feeding they have. They are scavenger birds, meaning that they feed on the remains of dead animals. Therefore, a feathered head would be constantly stained with blood and other fluids during feeding, making it difficult to keep clean.

Learn more about a Griffon Vulture in our article about their main characteristics.

Do Featherless Birds Exist? -


Another example of a bird without feathers are the species of the Phasianidae family where we can find turkeys. They do not have feathers on their head or neck. This is the same case for some storks (family Ciconiidae) that also lack feathers on their heads and necks.

Learn more about peacocks in our article about where peacocks live.

Do Featherless Birds Exist? -

Cardiolated bulbul

Another example is the Pycnonotus hualon or caripelated bulbul. They are an Asian songbird and native to Laos. They have a bald face with no feathers. These birds were only discovered a couple of years ago.

Do Featherless Birds Exist? -
Image: NTV


Other birds of the genus Fregata, such as the case of Fregata magnificens, do not have feathers in the gular area (neck). Instead, they display a gular pouch with a bright and striking red color that inflates during courtship rituals.

Do Featherless Birds Exist? -

Featherless birds from other causes

In other cases, birds may lack feathers because of:

  • Viral diseases: such as the one that affects psittaciform birds (parrots, cockatoos, etc.) such as the so-called beak and feather disease. This one is caused by a virus that attacks the growth cells of the feathers and causes the malformation and necrosis of these, so they do not develop normally and the bird loses them.
  • Feather development abnormalities: also captive-bred birds may have feather development abnormalities, this may be due to inadequate housing, ecto infections, and endoparasites such as some mites, lice, or fleas that can chew feathers and cause its fall. These ectoparasites not only cause damage to their skin and plumage, but progressively weaken their health, they can even cause anemia and respiratory problems if they are not treated in time.
  • Behavioral disorders: bacterial infections, metabolic diseases such as hypothyroidism, allergies to some foods, toxins that may be present in the environment, or behavioral disorders, such as excessive grooming, called bird itch caused by stress and / or anxiety. You may be interested in our article about important vitamins for a parrot's plumage.
  • Follicular cyst: it is a congenital disease and also causes feathers to not grow normally, but instead grow inwards, birds with more abundant plumage being more prone.
  • Chrysanthemum disease: another congenital disease is chrysanthemum disease, which suddenly causes feathers to stop growing. This is due to problems in regulating body temperature which leads to physiological imbalances.
  • Altricial offspring: in the case of species with altricial offspring (offspring that are born without a complete development and depend completely on their parents), when they hatch from the egg they do not have feathers that protect them or they may have traces of them. As the chick develops, the feathers are present long before leaving the nest.

In all these cases (except for the altricial offspring), their condition can improve by going to a veterinarian. They will carry out clinical examinations, a diagnosis and control the condition.

Do Featherless Birds Exist? - Featherless birds from other causes

If you want to read similar articles to Do Featherless Birds Exist?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

  • Laufer, G., Grosso, E., & Smith, S. (2015). Chewing feather lice, rhea ectoparasites (Rhea americana) . In VI International Congress on Wildlife Management in Amazonia and Latin America. Iquitos, Peru.
  • Lovette, IJ, & Fitzpatrick, JW (Eds.). (2016). Handbook of bird biology . John Wiley & Sons. 733 p.
  • Morales-Contretas, C., Murillo-Pacheco, R., & Fernández-Manrique, J. (2013, December). Feather loss in real parrots (Amazona ochrocephala) in the Villa Cistina Relocation Nucleus, Vereda Apiay-Villavicencio. A Clinical Approach . Memories of the Internal Conference on Medicine and Exploitation of Wild, Exotic and Non-Conventional Fauna (Vol. 9, No. 2, pp. 31-39).
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Do Featherless Birds Exist?