I became aware that there was a white hummingbird in central Ohio due to a post by Jim McCormac on his blog, Ohio Birds and Biodiversity. The bird is hanging around the herb garden of Inniswood Metro Gardens in Westerville, Ohio where there are still some flowers in bloom. After being spotted, someone put up a hummingbird feeder for it. I drove over there today to see if it was still there, and was I in for a treat!
There are two different mutations that can cause a bird or animal to be white instead of its normal color: albinism and leucism. An albino bird lacks an enzyme which is a building block in the production of melanin pigment, so its feathers are white and its eyes are pink. Leucistic bird suffer from a genetic defect that prevents the melanin pigment from being deposited in all or some of its feathers, but its eyes, beak, and feet are normally colored. Since the bird above has dark eyes, a dark beak, and some pigment in its feathers, it is a leucistic bird.
Leucistic birds have a hard time of it. They are an easier target for a predator, and the genetic defect that prevents the pigment from being deposited in their feathers also makes the feathers more brittle than usual. While talking to other people who were observing this particular bird, I was told that it was even being bothered by bluebirds which typically eat insects. It’s possible that due to its small size, white color, and flitting movements that it might have looked like a moth to them.
It can be challenging to identify the species of a leucistic bird when you can’t rely on the normal coloration. However in McCormac’s post he reports that Allen Chartier, a licensed hummingbird bander, has identified it as being a female, Ruby-throated hummingbird based the bird’s tail feathers. It is believed to be a juvenile that hatched earlier this year.
And with that let me show you some more photos that I took of it today.
It was thrilling getting to see this little bird; if you live in central Ohio and are interested in seeing it, it would probably be a good idea to go over there soon. It might continue its migration south any day now.
Inniswood Metro Gardens is located at 940 S. Hempstead Road, Westerville, Ohio.
- TrekOhio: Franklin County Parks & Nature Preserves – This is the county where Inniswood Metro Gardens is located; check out this page for basic information on the park and a link to the official site.
- Jim McCormac: White hummingbird at Inniswood Gardens: a recap
- Wikipedia: Leucism
- About.com: Bird Leucism
- British Trust for Ornithology: Leucism & albinism
More on Birds