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June 1st, 2009 - White Robin

I did a double-take yesterday when I saw what I thought was an "albino" (or at least partial albino) American Robin in someone's yard as Hapdog and I were walking to the coffee shop!
Da-doiiing...! What the?!

At first I thought it just a "trick of the light," as it was so bright outside, it was hard to tell how light the wings were. But something didn't look right. Hap and I waddled over and sure enough, after seeing it hop in the shade, and hear it's robin's call, it was a definitely a robin with white wings, and off-colored head feathers.
I took a few pics both with it in full sun, in the shade, and in the shade with flash, and of course, this is the day that I chose to go out only with my (actually Bob's) macro lens on.
It is still a 105mm straight lens without the macro switched in, so I at least got something. I did a pretty hack job of brushing out an area of overly bright grass at the bottom of the picture where the "shade line" was, but other than that, I didn't modify the bird.

I posted the pics on my Facebook site, and immediately got numerous responses from the local naturalist and birder crowd.
Kirk Mona, who runs a naturalist podcast site and is a local super-birder, straightened me out on the terminology. Most people, including myself, tend to use the term "albino" whenever they see something white that isn't normally white, or a creature that has an unusal pigmentation change.
Kirk says, "Looks like it's a case of partial leucism more than albinism. Since albinism is genetic, it is always systemic, affecting all of the animal. So, if it were an albino, the eyes would be pink. Also, the legs would lack color. The pigment missing in a albino is melanin, so in animals that have other pigments albinos are not always white, they can be yellow as well. Leucism is a phenotype not genotype resulting from defects in pigment cells. This looks like a case of hypopigmentation or partial leucism where only some of the cells are affected. This is more common than total leucism."
That's a lot of isms for one bird, but what he is really saying is "it's still cool and unusual." I for one have never seen a partially white robin before, however I have seen crows with pigmentation issues, and have seen photos of an all white peacock along with other mammals. Albinism can occur in pretty much any animal, I'm not sure if it occurs in every organism, however. Do bacteria come in colors...?
Here's some photos of other birds with partial leucism on Kirk's blog, including a really interesting "purple" finch.

Meanwhile, I will keep an extra eye open for the "white robin," and see if it is part of a nesting pair.
If they have a brood, what will they get...? Checkerboard...? Stripes...?
More color commentary on this story as it "develops..."


5251962 said...

He is really, REALLY nifty.

Do you have a syndication on LJ? It's really easier for me to keep track of blogs on livejournal. :)

gaybrial said...

awesome. i had to edit my comment before posting after reading the entry. lol i was going to say, "It's a Leucistic robin" but you've already been told that. this is the first time i've seen it in something other than a reptile though. reptile breeders go for this kind of thing. if you want to see something similar and cool, do a photo search for a "snow ball python". it's totally rad. thanks for the pics, and thanks, Tori, for pointing me to the post!!!

arualanne said...

for being a weirdo, it certainly is a very pretty Robin. And yes thanks Tori for pointing out this blog for that.

dignature said...

Yes, kind of the "white sport coat" look. ALL the robins are going to want it after this...