Jeff Green | Jan 26, 2006
by Jean Griffin
After receiving a report of an albino Evening Grosbeak in Flinton, I started looking for more information on albinism. There is a lot of information on this subject as it relates to humans, but I did not find much on animals or birds, except one article that said that the various mutations which result in one or another form of albinism and their effects have been found to be identical in both humans and non-humans. So a definition I found which calls albinism "a group of related conditions that are a result of altered genes that cause a defect of melanin production, which results in the partial or full absence of pigment from the skin, hair, and eyes" can be applied to birds and animals.
I have had people tell me that a person, bird or animal should only be called albino if they are ‘completely’ albino, but the sources I have been checking indicate that even though an individual may have a substantial amount of pigment such as some yellows, browns, or reds, they are still albinos and this source referred to them as ‘partial’ albinos.
The bird in Flinton was one of a large flock of Evening Grosbeaks (hey, why am I not getting these birds at my feeders!) and was described as "all yellow, some white and a buff color - no black or dark brown!" so this bird still has some pigmentation. How is this going to affect this bird? Will it be accepted readily by the members of the flock or will it be at the low end of the pecking order? Will it be more susceptible to predation because of the colour? Will it find a mate that accepts it? And if it does find a mate, will its offspring be albinos? We probably will not know what happens to this particular bird.
Over the years I have had a number of reports of albino birds and animals, including one Evening Grosbeak that appeared at my feeder a number of years ago, and was primarily white with a limited amount of yellowish-buff. I saw it for only a few days, so what happened to it? With the wandering habits of the grosbeaks it could have moved away. On the east side of Perth there was a totally white "Red" Squirrel around for most of one winter. Also east of Perth a partially-white American Robin was around one summer, and the next summer another partially-white robin. The same bird? Or the offspring of the first? We don’t know. I have heard of all-white White-tailed Deer, and, not in this area - a white elephant in Africa - now there is an animal that would be conspicuous!
One thought I have to which I have not found an answer - when the bird molts is there any chance the new feathers will be more normal? This of course is not to be confused with the molting of a Rock Ptarmigan, which living in the Arctic molts from brown to white in the fall, and back to brown in the spring - a matter of survival in this area and presumably no relation to albinism.