Mysterious birds

The baby alarm clock had gone off early. So early it was still dark, although that is not difficult at this time of the year. While mummy dealt with crumpets in bed, daddy was out like a shot to the garden to set up nets. With reinforcements waking to take care of the crumpet-eater I ventured outside to help. In a velvety deep blue sky a bright moon played hide and seek behind hazy clouds as two Tawny Owls called back and forth. Birds began to stir, the scree of a Buzzard came from overhead, followed by the chink chink of Blackbirds and the tinkle of the winter song of a Robin. The sun appeared painting the remaining wisps of cloud a delicate pink before disappearing behind low cloud once more.

The morning progressed with the low misty cloud slowly dissipating to reveal a pale blue sky and golden sunlight. It was by no means a busy morning bird catching wise. Just a steady trickle of birds, mainly Blue and Great Tits. But there were some interesting additions… a couple Goldfinch, a stunning adult male Siskin, a lovely Great Spotted Woodpecker, and those cheeky companions of the hedgerow House Sparrows.

And then there were two mysterious birds. Small, with varying shades of brown, a short stubby bill and several pure white feathers. Closer inspection revealed they were House Sparrows, but these little brown birds do not usually have pure white feathers, not least the odd one or two in the wings. But here they were. But what was going on then? The answer, these birds are partially leucistic. Here comes the science: this means those feathers lack the cells that produce the pigment melanin that creates the colour. It is not partial albinoism because being albino means none of the cells in the body produce any colour, including the eyes resulting in them being pink. In this case our male and female House Sparrows had both body and wing feathers that were pure white.

OK so they may not be the famous Santa Robin, but interesting birds none the less….

Female House Sparrow with leucistic feathers
Male House Sparrow with leucistic feathers

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