Photos courtesy Phillip Crame, Water Resources, Southwest Regional Office
This bird is a robin--a leucistic robin visiting the campus of the Washington State Department of Ecology in Lacey. Phil Crane and colleague Lynne Geller wrote about these unusual birds in the Inside Ecology newsletter this week.
What does leucistic mean? "It is a genetic mutation," Crane and Geller write, "whereby the pigmentation cells fail to develop properly. This can result in either general paleness or in unusual white patches appearing on the bird."
The authors are quick to note that the term "albino" is not accurate here as leucistic birds have some normally-colored plumage and their eyes are not red or pink. An albino would be pure white.
Because these leucistic robins have distinctive patches of white, Ecology staff has been able to keep track of individual birds and the flock from year to year. There was just one leucistic bird (the "grand-daddy) among the large flock of normally-pigmented robins in 2005 and 2006. Now, there are 20-25 of them--all with varying patterns of white--showing up in spring. The birds are not confined to the Ecology campus--a neighbor here in Olympia called me a few weeks back asking if I could identify a bird feeding in her back yard: "It's the size of a robin, parts of it are the color of a robin, it's hanging out with robins, but it's.....weird!"
Yes, it is weird. But so is "spring" in Olympia!