Leucistic Mourning Dove, a yard bird in Waukesha County on December 29, 2018

Just as I was ready to leave the house for birding this morning, something outside caught my eye. 3 Mourning Doves had just landed in a tree near the feeders and one was leucistic. It dropped down to one of the feeders and started eating seeds. What a nice surprise it was! After only a couple of minutes a Gray Squirrel dropped down to another feeder and flushed the 3 doves away. I found it interesting that Mourning Doves frequent the yard daily, usually 3-8 is common. I would assume they are typically the same birds, why would you think differently. I found out this is not true as this leucistic bird has never been seen here before. I hung around a while but the bird did not return. All images were shot through a window. Images were taken on December 29, 2018.

Mourning Dove, leucistic

With seed in the bill…

Comes down from the tree branch and looks at the feeder from above…

Takes a peek at the seed on the feeder…

Looks at all the good things to eat in the feeder…Interesting, one tan tail feather and one white tail feather!

What is Leucism?  Leucism is an uncommon condition in birds.  This condition is caused by a genetic mutation which prevents pigments, particularly melanin, from being deposited evenly in the bird’s feathers.  Leucistic birds have melanin elsewhere in their bodies which is why they may have dark eyes, legs, and bills.  However, their true color will be missing or greatly reduced due to the lack of proper pigmentation.

What is Albinism? Leucism is similar to albinism as in both cases the birds may be completely white.  However, albinism is defined as a complete absence of melanin in an animal.  Truly albino species will have pink eyes as the only color seen will be caused by blood vessels behind their eyes.  They will also have pink bills, legs, and feet.  Albinism is extremely rare in birds.

Notes: Leucistic birds are extremely uncommon for a number of reasons.  They are not thought to live very long because their white feathers make it difficult for them to hide from predators.  If they do stay alive, it is difficult for them to find a mate and successfully pass on their genetic mutation.  Additionally, the melanin found in regular birds adds strength to the feathers.  Leucistic birds lacking melanin have weaker feathers and thus have a more difficult time flying in severe weather.  Last, the reflective properties of white feathers may be problematic for birds who rely on solar energy for heat.