Thursday, December 20, 2007

Snowflake the Junco

Looking out my home office window about a month ago, I spied with my little eye, a white spot on the green-turning-brown lawn. It was out under the pines where corn and mixed seed are scattered.

At first I thought it was a piece of tissue.

Then the white spot moved.

I got binocs on it and saw that it was a female dark-eyed junco but that it was leucistic, what most of us might mistakenly call "partially albino." There are no partial albinos. [Science Chimp chimes in: "That's like saying She's partially pregnant"] You either are or you aren't. Same thing is true with albinism.

Actual albino birds completely lack pigment. Their eyes are red. Their fleshy parts are pink. Their feathers are all white. They normally do not survive long for a variety of reasons (poor eyesight, difficulty of NOT getting noticed by predators, other genetic problems).

This bird intrigued me. It is leucistic--partially lacking in pigment. It's not only noticeable and beautiful, it's quite willing to come in to our front stoop feeder, to our studio feeders, and basically hang around the yard all day long.

I am calling this whitish dark-eyed junco Snowflake (awwwww!). She is easy to spot among the 50 or so juncos spending this winter with us.

I have yet to get a really good photo of her this year. I'm wondering if it's the same leucistic female we had here last year. This year's model is noticeably whiter. But what are the chances of two different leucistic female dark-eyed juncos showing up at our farm on consecutive years?

I have a lot of questions about this...
Does the amount of leucism change from molt to molt? Does it come on stronger with age?

Is this the same bird?
Well, I'd like to get your opinion on this.

Here is the December 2007 bird:

December 2007. Photo by Julie Zickefoose.

And here is the December 2006 bird:December 2006.

Viewed from different angles, it's easy to see that the leucism is not uniform—she has one side that's whiter than the other.

Birds with noticeable physical traits (white feathers, abnormally long bills, a drooping wing) are known as marker birds. You can spot them as individuals.

I posted about our other marker birds last December here in BOTB, including several images of a whitish junco.

I'll keep you posted on her whereabouts. I just hope the sharp-shinned hawk does not prefer white meat...

Snowflake the leucistic junco.

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