Thursday, July 29, 2010

Weird White-tailed Grackle

Thursday, July 29, 2010
17 comments
This weird-looking dude showed up at the platform feeder a couple of weeks ago. He's a leucistic common grackle. What caused his tail to be white is anyone's guess. Was it a flaw in his genetic material? The result of an injury or some dietary anomaly while a nestling? A fashion statement?

It's been a big blackbird year around the farm with larger-than-normal numbers of red-winged blackbirds and common grackles hanging around, visiting the feeders, foraging on the lawn.



I always enjoy it when we have these "marker birds" around—birds with a noticeable and often odd physical attribute. We've had bluebirds with a drooping wing or messed-up alula feathers. We've had a partially white junco. For one winter we hosted a tufted titmouse with an overgrown upper mandible. These are all birds that are easy to notice and keep track of because their physical anomalies make them stand out as individuals.

The current issue of Bird Watcher's Digest features an article about a juvenile rose-breasted grosbeak that lacked a beak! If the photos of this rose-breasted no-beak don't freak you out, try watching the video in our digital edition. Freaky!

By the way, here's your obscure fact for the day: Albinism in birds is caused by an absence of melanin in the feathers and body. This usually results in birds that are totally white with red or pink eyes. Leucism is caused by uneven distribution of melanin in the feathers and body, resulting in pale-looking birds or birds with patches of white.

Our white-tailed common grackle (which is leucistic, not albino) stayed around for a few days and then moved on. But if he returns, we'll certainly notice.

17 comments:

On July 29, 2010 at 6:08 PM Susan said...

Interesting. We have had a black-capped chickadee with a totally white tail visit us occasionally since winter. I wondered how common things like that were. And over the winter I saw a junco with white patches around its eyes. I had never noticed anything like that before either. Always something new and interesting!

On July 29, 2010 at 9:58 PM A New England Life said...

My parents have had some odds birds too but not us. That's pretty cool! Definitely not something you see all the time!

On July 29, 2010 at 10:07 PM CNemes said...

Neat grackle! I've always thought color abnormalities in animals are really fascinating. Once in the shopping center where I used to work I saw a house sparrow with a white middle tail feather; one of his wing feathers--I guess one of the secondaries?--on each side was white as well. I was struck by the symmetry of it, which made me think it might've been genetic rather than the result of a close call with a predator, for example.

When I signed up for FeederWatch this past year I remember reading about "anomalous" birds on their website. Here's the article: http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/AboutBirdsandFeeding/OtherStrangeBirds.htm I wonder if birds with color variations are more inclined to come to feeders because they make for an easy meal, or whether it's simply that people who feed birds are more likely to notice the differences (since they're closely scrutinizing their visitors anyway)?

It's definitely fun to watch for the little differences between feeder visitors. We used to get a chickadee with some sort of eye deformity that I always, well, kept an eye out for. And as of last week we now have nine banded yardbirds which of course makes them instantly recognizable; I love trying to pick them out from the lineup!

On July 29, 2010 at 10:37 PM rmharvey said...

I heard once that single white feathers are usually replacements grown out of the usual most season. I don't know if it is true, but it would make sense that the same thing could happen with an entire tail. Tails can be pretty vulnerable - the last thing in reach of an enemy during an escape.

On July 31, 2010 at 4:06 PM rmharvey said...

Correction, "most season" should have read as "molt season"

On October 15, 2010 at 4:41 PM EcoCristina! said...

In a trip to Tortuguero NP here in Costa Rica, I saw a clay-colored robin (Turdus Grayi) with white patches in it's wing feathers. These kind of things are quite exciting, aren't they?

On April 11, 2011 at 7:09 PM Bob Weston said...

I live in Waterloo, Iowa and have had a white tailed grackle visiting my backyard for about two weeks. How common is this bird to to region?

On May 14, 2011 at 6:35 PM sue ann said...

We have one of these weird grackles feeding at our house now. He has been here a few days! We named him 'Silver Back'. (We name alot of our birds!)

On July 1, 2011 at 7:07 PM Anonymous said...

We have a grackle with some white feathers at the rump, and in the tail, at our feeder here in south Edison, NJ, right now. From what I've just read online, this is a 'leucistic,' or partially albino, bird.

On March 1, 2012 at 3:38 PM Anonymous said...

Just had the identical bird at my feeder in Arlington, VA. Could not id him until I found your site. Wow, he/she was beautiful. I got several pictures.

On April 4, 2012 at 8:45 PM Anonymous said...

Just saw a white tailed grackle in our backyard near Mpls Minnesota. Did't know what it was so I googled "white tail grackle." I think it's odd that the white tail seems to be a common "leucistic" feature in the grackels. Maybe I'll google white winged grackle ...

On May 2, 2012 at 6:33 PM Joann said...

I live in Fairview Heights, IL. We have a white capped (top of head) grackle on our feeders this past week. We also saw "Him" last fall. He seems to be a loner from the other grackles. Hoping to get a picture.

On June 4, 2012 at 9:52 AM Ian Brown said...

We have a white tailed grackle here in Bromont, QC. It's quite a noticeable deep vee. He/she seems to hang around with others, and this is the second year we've seen him/her.
Ian Brown

On March 14, 2013 at 8:20 PM Anonymous said...

Have had a white tailed grackle at our birdfeeder in Fayetteville, NC for the last two days. We call him "Skunk". The white tail with the black and purple makes a beautiful bird.

On March 28, 2013 at 3:31 PM Anonymous said...

I spotted one here today, near the geographic center of Long Island, NY. He was hanging around with the other grackles.

On May 13, 2014 at 9:25 PM Kathy said...

Spotted a white tailed grackle in my yard in Stoughton WI today. He was in the company of other grackles.

On June 16, 2014 at 7:39 AM Exotic Pets said...

I had to look up the white tailed grackle. I have spotted two babies the last week. The parents have had normal dark tails. Very unusual. These birds were spotted in Huron, SD.


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