I was amazed yesterday when I saw the photo and video of the white hummingbird taken by Steve Byland in New Jersey because I had been contacted about a white hummingbird seen near a town just about an hour from where I live in Colorado! If that wasn’t astounding enough, I saw Steve Byland’s comment today that there was also another white hummingbird seen in Virginia that he notes is almost identify to the one he saw. Why is this so astounding? Both true albino and ‘leucistic’ hummingbirds are very rare.
So what’s the difference between albino and leucistic hummingbirds? True albino hummingbirds, which is caused by a genetic change that “prevents the production of melanin in the body”, are lacking pigmentation not only in the feathers but also in other body parts. True albino hummingbirds have white feathers, a pink bill, whitish or pink legs & feet and either pink or red eye–all because they are lacking the pigment melanin that provides most (though not all) of the coloration to birds. The pink or red color in the eyes of pure albinos comes not from melanin but from the blood vessels behind their eyes. Incomplete albinism occurs when there is pigment missing in some but not all parts of the bird. Birds that lack melanin pigmentation in their feathers due to a genetic disorder (and not due to nutritional or other non-genetic causes) have a form of ‘leucism’.
Now having to do with some complicated chemical reactions in the body (“The pigments in the back of the eyeball remain present and therefore the eyes look dark”) leucistic birds have normally colored dark eyes. It gets even more complex as their are two ‘main varities’ of leucism according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology their Project Feeder Watch website–“paleness, an equal reduction of melanin in all feathers; and pied, an absence of melanin in some feathers creating white patches.” Here is a webpage with several photos of pied American Crows.
So, let’s apply this information to the bird in these photos that were taken by Judith Anne Smith of this white hummingbird this week near Salida, Colorado. I can clearly see a pink bill and pink feet (the legs are not really visible but when the photos are super enlarged there does not appear to be any dark coloration there). The eye is difficult to see well in these photos but when I super enlarge it they appear reddish in coloration. The feathers are white. Now there are some places where there is darkish areas such as in the top pic right at bend in the wing and other places along the flanks and side of the bird. I believe this is the underlying skin showing through or shadowing like in this close-up photo of a confirmed true albino hummer being banded and several photos on the the Hummingbirds.net websitethat have been judged by experts to be true albinos.
But even if it isn’t a true albino hummingbird, it’s pretty darn cool don’t you think?