K.S. Brooks / Silverado Express Newspaper
The Elusive and Ghostly Leucistic Red-Tailed Hawk of Arden
D.L. Kreft will not be making his regular appearance here this week in For the Birds. Word on the street is that he is busy hurriedly building his counter-turkey warfare moat and turret while they are reluctant to leave the shade of the trees due to the summer heat. Smooth move, Mr. Kreft. I want to be on his team when Turkeygeddon goes down.
Without the Big D around this month, that left me to ponder the universal questions of: How did the Famous Ghostly Red-Tailed Hawk of Arden become leucistic? Can a snow-white raptor find love? What the heck does leucistic even mean?
Let’s start with that last question. And just a little bit of friendly advice: Don’t ever mistakenly state that leucistic is “sort of albino” on Facebook. You will be harshly criticized by people with nothing better to do than look for ways to pick on people who are trying to simplify an explanation. That’s lesson number one.
Number two: Cornell University’s All About Birds site says, “Leucism is not a genetic mutation, but rather describes defects in pigment cells that are caused during development. This may result in full leucism, where there is a reduction in all types of pigment. An animal with full leucism will appear paler than normal. Leucistic animals may also show irregular patches of white — this is referred to as partial leucism… Because the development of the eyes occurs separately from other areas of the body, eye color in leucistic animals is not affected and will be normal in color.” You may have noticed that, in albino animals, the eyes are pink or even red.
The site goes on to explain that “Albinism results from a genetic mutation that interferes with production of the pigment melanin. … True albino birds are rare in nature because without protective pigments in the eyes, they may quickly become blind.”
The National Park Service puts it a little more simply: “Leucism is a genetic condition in which parts or all of an animal’s body surface lack cells capable of producing any type of pigment.”
Most of us have never encountered a leucistic bird, and that’s because they are rare indeed. According to the Avian Report, “Only…