The Splendid Bourke Blog
A friend in Wisconsin recently told me about the sighting of a pure, white Robin. Witness to only an albino squirrel in my lifetime, I Googled ‘sightings of albino birds’ online. Many images came up including an albino Hummingbird, Blackbird, Australian Tawny Frogmouth and an albino Puffin, to name a few.
Albinism occurs when offspring inherit a recessive gene from both parents resulting in complete absence of pigment in skin, eyes, fur or feathers. Even if parents are not albinos, this genetic anomaly occurs in 1 out of 70 humans.
A 1965 “Bird-Banding” article in the Journal of Ornithological Investigation documents 304 albinistic species, with albinism occurring in 72 percent of North American birds, or 54 of the 75 families of birds. More than 160 species of British birds with albinism or leucism have been reported with 29 percent in the thrush family and 11 percent consisting of crows. The chart below from Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine shows the genetic possibility from two parents that carry the recessive gene.
Birders report fewer sightings of albino birds compared to those affected by leucism. Leucistic birds may have partial pigmentation on their feathers and are referred to as pied or piebald birds. While sightings of this unusual phenomenon can be a thrill, lighter plumage may rob birds of their protective camouflage making them easier prey.
photo by Jeffrey Anderson
Albino animals are considered sacred within Native American tradition and 13 states have made it illegal to hunt or kill albino animals. The Native American Times reports sightings of white buffalo dating back to 1833. A white buffalo calf is a sign of hope and an indication of future prosperity. Thailand protects white elephants, associating them with Buddha. African folklore holds that white lions are “children of the Sun of God sent to Earth as divine gifts.”
About.com Birding/Wild Birds
The Splendid Bourke Bird Blog
Missouri Department of Conservation, MDC Online
Procol Harum “A Whiter Shade of Pale” 1967
The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB)