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I’ve posted a couple of times over the past few weeks about my “friend,” a Vermilion Flycatcher residing in a local park that is not only extremely cooperative, but one of my favorite subjects to photograph.
Recently, I was driving through farm country about 50 miles from our Tucson home when I saw a brilliant flash of red in some vegetation. It was another Vermilion Flycatcher. I stopped to photograph him. I did a double take when I looked at the bird through my camera’s viewfinder. This is what I saw.
That large white patch beneath the flycatcher’s wing is not typical Vermilion Flycatcher plumage. This is a leucistic bird.
The term “leucism” describes a pigment anomaly that can show up in creatures ranging from reptiles to birds to mammals, including humans. A leucistic individual may have an area or areas on its body that are devoid of pigment, producing white skin, feathers, or fur in that region. In some individuals, leucistic areas are quite small. Others are leucistic on nearly their entire bodies.
I’ve seen a few leucistic birds over the years. A nearly all-white leucistic Red-tailed Hawk wintered in the Tucson area every year (I haven’t heard mention of it recently). A leucistic Phainopepla used to show up in Sabino Canyon during the fall and winter. And, recently, I photographed a leucistic Turkey Vulture and posted my image of the bird here.
People tend to confuse leucism with albinism. They aren’t the same conditions. Albinism describes a genetic mutation that creates an absence of the pigment melanin. Albino creatures have no pigment and tend to be all white or a very pale yellow in color, with characteristic pink eyes. By contrast, leucistic creatures lack pigment cells only in discrete areas and have normally colored eyes.
I was very pleased to photograph this leucistic flycatcher. Seeing a bird like this is a rare experience that I find to be very rewarding. No offense meant to my “friend,” who I will continue to photograph even if he is just a “normal” Vermilion Flycatcher.
Images made with a Canon R5. First and third images photographed with a Canon RF 100-500mm f4.5-7.1 IS L zoom lens, M setting (auto ISO). First image, ISO 1600, f7.1 @ 1/1250, -2/3 stop exposure compensation. Third image, ISO 250, f7.1 @ 1/1250, -2 stops exposure compensation. Second image photographed with a Canon EF 400mm f4 DO II lens+Canon EF 1.4x telextender, M setting (auto ISO), ISO 640, f5.6 @ 1/2000.