Nebraskaland April 2020

NEBRASKAland Magazine is dedicated to outstanding photography and informative writing with an engaging mix of articles and photos highlighting Nebraska’s outdoor activities, parklands, wildlife, history and people.

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62 Nebraskaland • April 2020 By Julie Geiser BIRD OF A DIFFERENT COLOR While out taking photos one morning, I came across a strange-looking bird. From a distance, I couldn't tell what the bird was. Curious, I slowly closed in and snapped photos of it until I could see it was a partially leucistic, or piebald, American robin. Many bird and mammal species can display leucism, which is a condition where there is a reduction of pigmentation resulting in white, pale or patchy colors of skin, hair, scales or feathers. In birds, leucism only affects the feathers, and the degree of leucism varies, depending on how pigment cells were defected during an animal's development. The plumage of leucistic birds appear paler than normal because there is a reduction in all types of pigmentation. Some birds may show irregular patches of white among normal colored feathers, which results in pied, or piebald, leucism. Other leucistic birds may have no pigmentation at all in their feathers, making them look pure white; however, this does not mean that the bird is an albino. Albinism affects all the pigments in an individual, not just in spots like the American robin I photographed. Albino birds show no color whatsoever in their feathers and have pale-pink or reddish eyes, legs, feet and a pale bill, whereas leucistic birds often have normally colored eyes, legs, feet and bills. There are some downfalls to white feathers. These feathers can wear out faster than darker colored feathers due to their lack of melanin, which is a structural component of feathers. Weakened feathers may make flying more strenuous, and white feathers reflect heat, making it tricky for the bird to keep warm in cold temperatures. Lastly, white plumage is not good camouflage for birds that depend on it to keep safe from predators, such as cats, foxes and hawks. Identifying leucistic, or piebald, birds can be challenging but the majority of these birds will possess other normal plumage colors that can be used for identification. While the white feathers on the American robin I photographed were perplexing, its normal colors made identification less difficult. Examining a leucistic bird's size, shape, range and behavior, and taking note of other birds nearby, can also aid you in identifying the species. THE LAST STOP PHOTO BY JULIE GEISER

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