Leucistic pied robin

Leucistic Robin

A leucistic robin arrived today with a flock of fellow American robins. Leucistic animals have a partial deficiency in melanin production or distribution. Albinism is similar, except in albinism the animal produces no melanin pigment at all. In the robin pictured here, the melanin is present, but not properly distributed. This results in a spotted or pied appearance. Sometimes the animal is faded rather than spotted. This is also not true albinism but rather another form of leucism. Anecdotally, I’ve seen leucism before in robins, more often than other species. I don’t know whether it’s more common, or just because robins are so easily observed. This is the first I have seen one with spots like this one. He’s otherwise a handsomely-colored male. For more about leucism and albinism in birds, Cornell has a good article.

Leucism is not a helpful trait; such animals tend to stand out to predators, making them easier prey. Indeed, in this flock of robins I saw a red-shouldered hawk try its luck. Red-shouldered hawks are not well adapted to capturing other birds, but that doesn’t prevent them from giving it a try once in a while. The hawk today flew in low, but observant flock members triggered a panic departure in time.

If you look closely you can see a few snowflakes in the air. The flock of robins were scouring the leaf litter for invertebrates on this cold day with temperatures hovering around 32 degrees F. Robins eat fruit in the winter; it’s comical how a switch seems to flip in March suddenly switching them back to carnivores, no matter the conditions.

The photograph itself is unfortunately not that great. I had very few chances to photograph him in the minute or so he was in view. He helpfully showed me his back, but I would have appreciated an eyeball in addition. I was taking this through a window pane at 300mm. It is heavily cropped on top of that. I was grateful for any chance to capture an image, though. This is captured with a Nikon D90 and an Nikkor 70-300mm AF-S VR ED telephoto zoom. ISO 1600, f/5.6, 1/800 sec.  (Note to self: dial the ISO back down when returning to daylight shooting!)

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