Leucistic Mallard

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I’m pleased to say that we’re approaching that time of year when migratory birds begin to pass through southern Arizona.  I am very much looking forward to that.  Although I love photographing bugs and spiders and such, there can be too much of a good thing and I’d like to get back to avian photography soon.

I went over to Sweetwater Wetlands this morning, more to scout the place than to take pictures, because I wasn’t anticipating seeing very much.  It’s still a bit early for the migrants to show up.  To my surprise there was a fair number of Mallards on the wetlands’ several ponds.  I counted at least 50 of these ducks on the water with more coming and going.  For the Mallards, at least, the migration appears to have begun.

I took a few photos, more for practice than for any other reason.  All of the birds were in non-breeding plumage, which is to say that they were not sporting the brilliant feathers that most think of when the word “Mallard” is mentioned.

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The birds included this pair, with the female in the foreground.

They also included this male.

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But, what really caught my eye was the male’s companion.

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This is definitely NOT typical Mallard plumage, although the duck is certainly a Mallard and probably a female.  This is a leucistic bird.  Leucism is the absence of pigmentation and it shows up from time to time in nearly all species.  It’s not albinism.  An albino individual lacks the pigment melanin and is typically all white (actually colorless, appearing as white).  Albinos have pigment-free eyes, which appear as pink.  By contrast, leucistic individuals are white in some areas and pale in others, like this bird, but with dark eyes.

Some people refer to leucistic individuals as “partial albinos.”  That’s an incorrect expression because, as I have explained, the causes of lack of pigmentation are quite different between leucistic and albino individuals.

Images made with a Canon 5Diii, 400 DO, aperture priority setting, ISO 800, f6.3, shutter speeds varied.

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