Monday, February 11, 2013

That's a Horse, I Mean Bird, Of a Different Color

About a month ago my friend Donna from Garden Walk, Garden Talk and I were chatting about birds.  She had a mysterious bird she needed help identifying.  For some reason I thought I could help.  Right away Donna sent me a couple pictures of this mystery bird.  (All photos were taken by Donna)

Isn't this a cute little bird?  What kind of bird was it??  When I Google a bird or a plant or a bug I try to use as many descriptive words as possible.  What words would you use?

I chose color as my first descriptive word, not tan or beige, but blonde.   To me it looked like a House Sparrow,  so my Google search was 'Blonde Sparrow'.  Now I got some interesting results, even some for Pirates of the Caribbean and Jack Sparrow.  Pretty certain it wasn't Jack Sparrow.


One of the results was for another blog, Project Noah.  He had a picture of a bird that was similar to the ones that Donna sent me.  I love all my blogging buddies, but I needed another source, a scientific research source.   Donna contacted some folks from Cornell and was waiting to hear back from them.  In the meanwhile, she did hear from a friend who is a member of Buffalo Audubon Society, who said he believed it to be a House Sparrow, a Leucistic House Sparrow.  His determination was the clear coloring of its breast.

Ok, time for some new scientific words, reference-Cornell color, and color abnormality

  • Leucistic-genetic mutation that prevents the melanin from coloring the feathers
  • Albinism- genetic mutation where there is no melanin is produced in the body
  • melanin- one of three natural pigments that are found in organisms
  • carotenoid- pigments not affected by albinism
  • porphyrins- third pigment group, gives fluoresce, a form of luminescence, to colors
Definitions aside, just how does one tell a leucistic bird from an albino bird?  Leucism is a pale coloring, where the melanin pigments, while present in the body do not color the feathers.   A bird with leucistic mutations can be blonde as in our bird, or have white coloring, or splotchy white blocks of feathers, which is called pied.  The one sure way to know if it is leucistic or albino, is to check the eyes.  Albino birds have no melanin in their body, so the only coloring in their eyes will be the blood behind the eye.  That is why they seem to have red eyes.   Since not all pigments are affected by the mutations, you can have an all white bird with a red peaked head as in this Pileated Woodpecker and here.  Make sure to check these links, most incredible photos.  


Here is the blonde sparrow during the summer, you can see the coloring difference from other female House Sparrows.   Some of the reports on the leucistic and albino birds don't fair well as they stand out to predators.  There is also information stating these birds have a hard time attracting a mate.  Donna has seen this bird and one of its relatives who is paler, with other birds. She says that the paler bird has been seen feeding some fledglings, so this one could be related and they do produce offspring.  Be sure to visit Donna's blog as she is doing a post on the whiter bird on the 14th of February.     
Reports on Cornell's website say that leucistc birds are unusual and albino are rare.  If you see either, you should consider yourself quite lucky.
  
Donna is quite lucky to be sure, you can see this bird is still hanging with the other House Sparrows-


This really shows the contrast between the normal sparrow coloring and leucistic.  This little leucistic female is seen with male House Sparrows.

Moral of the story?  Keep your eyes peeled for a lucky bird!  Make sure to watch and record your bird sightings this weekend, February 15- 18 for the Great Backyard Bird Count.   Maybe you too will see an unusually colored bird.



©Copyright 2012 Janet. All rights reserved. Content created by Janet for The Queen of Seaford. words and photos by Janet,The Queen of Seaford.

58 comments:

  1. Replies
    1. Ricki, good question, bet the answer is yes!

      Delete
  2. Such an interesting--and timely--post! Donna's photos and your research are both great resources. It's a beautiful little bird. The kids and I are excited for the Great Backyard Bird Count--Mikey has his science notebook ready to take tallies!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Julie, thanks! It was all Donna and her great photos and her connections. Know Mikey had a good time with the bird count.

      Delete
  3. I love what you did with this post, Janet. It combines the studied information with the story behind the photos. Thank you so much for your dogged research and time. You were the first to get a good clue on the bird's ID. It gave us a place to start. I am sure this sparrow will be in the yard for GBBC day, but I only wish the mother and rest of the family had stuck around. I would have loved a family portrait!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna @GWGT, It was all you! thanks for sharing this with me to share with the blogging world. Yes, a family portrait would have been great, icing on the cake.

      Delete
  4. Well it is a lovely little bird with its different color of feathers.

    ReplyDelete
  5. I often have about 30 sparrows in and around our feeders in the winter time. I have never seen a light colored bird like this. How interesting! Donna's pictures are terrific as always.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jennifer, Yes, Donna's photos are amazing. It was her keen eye to find this beauty.

      Delete
  6. Very interesting! I certainly have lots of house sparrows, but have never seen a blond, or leucistic, one. By the way, despite the name, house sparrows are actually finches.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jason, We don't have many house sparrows in my area..none that I have seen anyway. Yes, they are in the finch family.

      Delete
  7. Janet I love this strawberry blonde coloring...a rare treasure indeed!! Thanks to both of you for such a fabulous post

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Donna@ GEV, I like her strawberry blonde coloring too! thanks so much.

      Delete
  8. Very neat! Thanks for the reminder for this weekend. I hope to do a good count here and will watch for a 'horse' of a different color!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tina, Hope you had a good count!! Maybe even a sighting of a 'horse' of a different color.

      Delete
  9. How interesting! I learned something new today! What a sweetie pie. I hope she finds a mate and doesn't stand out to predators too much!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. HolleyGarden, She is a sweetie isn't she? I learned a lot researching about this coloring feature.

      Delete
  10. It's a cutie! I like the blonde look. He and I match! :o)

    ReplyDelete
  11. Marguerite has left a new comment on your post "That's a Horse, I Mean Bird, Of a Different Color":

    What a great post, I had never heard of this phenomena before but when I saw the first picture my head immediately said sparrow. I wouldn't have actually believed it was a sparrow though until I read your explanation.

    I accidently deleted Marguerite's comment. So much for moderating comments. Here is her comment from my email.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Marguerite, I hadn't heard of it before this either! thanks for commenting and sorry for accidently deleting your comment.

      Delete
  12. Janet, you are a talented researcher! I was always amazed by your ability to identify plants, and now I see that you are also good with identifying birds. Donna's pictures are great and, of course, I like the bird. It has such a unique coloring!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Tatyana, I just use the good ol' Google! You are most kind. I was lucky with this bird, not sure if it could happen again.

      Delete
  13. What a fascinating story, for some reason I had no idea that birds could be albino, though I knew mammals could, as as for leucistic, well, suffice to say that this has been a very educational post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Janet, thanks! It was a new bit of information to me. Love to learn something new!

      Delete
  14. Wow, great investigative research. I always consider myself lucky seeing a new bird, even if it is common to others. I think this is fascinating! I am ready to count tomorrow!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Karin, thanks, it was fun to research this. It would have been cool to have a leucistic bird here!

      Delete
  15. The word that came to mind was adorable, but, I am sure that would not help at all in a search. Thank you for a new vocabulary word and links to the fantastic Pileated Wodpecker. gail

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gail, Yes, I think 'adorable bird' would not have garnered much of a narrowed result! I think the leucistic Pileated Woodpecker is really cool.

      Delete
  16. I think she actually looks more like a redhead than a blonde, kind of the same color as a ginger cat. At any rate, she's very pretty! (And the pileated woodpecker in your link is amazing too!) Thanks for the lesson in bird coloring. Fascinating stuff!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Alison, blonde or redhead, she is certainly different. I liked that Pileated woodpecker was so cool.

      Delete
  17. How interesting. Of course, it's only natural that there'd be some colour variations, but I've never actually seen one -- and we get plenty of sparrows here. Thanks for the education.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Helen, I have never seen one either... this is all new territory to me. What an interesting little bird.

      Delete
  18. Beautiful! We have seen three different leucistic birds in the past year. They are amazing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Carolyn, You had three leucistic birds?? Wow. What kind of birds?

      Delete
  19. Janet, I was late seeing this post, but glad I didn't miss it. Learned something new about the bird world -- always a treat! Maybe you'll see one of these sparrows in your yard one day.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. DJ, I am glad you saw this post too! These little birds are interesting, I hope to see one someday!

      Delete
  20. Love the bird activity both in the winter and now that spring seems just around the corner, singing seemed to have stepped a notch. I'm hearing lots of cardinals and Carolina wrens right now! And the robins are flocking, too.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Lisa, I love watching the birds too. We have a lot of Cardinals and Woodpeckers right now.

      Delete
  21. The blond sparrow is prettier than the regular House Sparrows, although I'm not a fan of House Sparrows no matter what. Even their vocalizations drive me crazy. lol Congrats on the ID!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sweetbay, I am not a big fan of House Sparrows...they were pretty abundant in the Northeast. This little one would be interesting to see.

      Delete
  22. Good information and beautiful photos! Was not familiar with the term leucistic at all--how interesting! Will be attempting to count a few species for the bird count...our first time participating. We have lots of robins and bluebirds, and plenty of others too. Will be interesting to see who stops by for a visit over the weekend!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Daricia, thanks. I wasn't familiar with the term either. Hope you were able to count a lot of birds last weekend.

      Delete
  23. I wouldn't have even thought of an albino bird, and leucistic is a new word to me. What a lovely little sparrow this fellow is; you would think all the females would be immediately attracted to him with his golden plumage:) Kudos to you and Donna for persevering until you could identify it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Rose, New word for me as well. This one was female, so maybe the males were attracted to her. It was a fun journey to make the ID.

      Delete
  24. Great post Janet! I too thought that it may be a HOSP prior to getting confirmation later in your post. Definitely an interesting color though. I've been watching birds for a long time & have never seen one like this, except in photos. It's definitely rare! Thanks for sharing this and the various terms...I learned something new today!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Allen, thanks! Glad you stopped by, know how you like bird watching. Glad you learned something, I sure did!

      Delete
  25. Very cool post, Janet! Great pics of that odd little lucky bird.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kim and Victoria, thanks so much. Kudos to Donna for the photos.

      Delete
  26. Does she or doesn't she? How does everyone know this is 'she'? Some guys are blonde, too. If there were gelled spikey feathers and piercing through the beak, we would assume it's a 'guy', right?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ray, yes, indeed, does she or doesn't she? Her markings are that of a female. A male would have the cap on his head and a dark throat (darker than the blonde, more tan/blonde). or yes, spikey feathers and a piercing. hahaha

      Delete
  27. What a beautiful little female house sparrow! She's gorgeous! Personally, I think it would be great if this mutation "sticks" and gets passed down through the generations!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Gaia, Yes, it would be a nice trait to pass down...except for the vulnerability to predators.

      Delete
  28. I have one of these lovely blond birds in my backyard. I was trying to figure out what kind of bird it was and came across your post. Thanks for the good info!

    ReplyDelete

If you use OpenID/Anonymoous please sign your name so I know who you are...there is a lot of spam out there. Thanks for visiting today. The Queen would be pleased if you left a comment...... :-D thanks! I do respond to your comments, you can click on the email followup comments to have it in your inbox.

I am now moderating all comments. Too much spam is coming through. Sorry folks.