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.