Do you enjoy words that evoke great conversation and bolster your birding vocabulary? If so, we think you'll like this one - 'leucistic'. Leucism is a condition that affects the pigmentation of certain cells due to the absence of melanin, resulting in a white or washed-out appearance of the feathers – an example of this condition is modelled perfectly by our little friend above. The question is… what species is this? (Photo courtesy of Nature’s Home reader, Shirley Fisher).

Ever peered out the window and spotted a catalyst for confusion? Chances are you're looking at a common species with a not so common condition - leucism. Not to be mistaken with albinism, which is a rare genetic mutation caused by the absence of melanin in all pigment cells, resulting in the unmistakable all-white appearance and pink eyes.

 Leucism on the other hand, only presents pigmentation loss in certain cells, thus making leucistic birds (and animals) easy to tell apart as the iris pigmentation will remain dark in colour and the feathers, skin or hair will appear blotchy in appearance, much like our subject in question - you guessed it - the robin (pictured left).

Shirley says: 'I photographed this leucistic robin at Cannock Chase, German Military Cemetery.' - quite the spot Shirley, thank you! If you've got a similarly rare sighting stored on your camera, we'd love to see it, please send your photos to: natureshome@rspb.org.uk 

Quick-fire facts

  • It's not easy being leucistic and there's a good reason you don't see many examples about due to the high mortality rate attributed to this condition.
  • In the case of birds, leucism impedes the strength of the feathers, leaving them prone to wear and tear. This has a negative impact on flight, which acts like a red flag to any nearby predators. 
  • Another theory for the low survival rate of leucistic animals is that they're unidentifiable by non-leucistic members of the same species. Resulting in rejection from potential mates, clashes over territory or even a fight to death.
  • Leucism is inherited from one bird (or animal) to the next. The extent of the whitening will vary however, and some young have been known to skip the effects of the condition all together due to a recessive gene. 
  • Although leucism is more commonly seen than albinism (genuine examples of this genetic mutation are very rare in the wild), it's still incredibly lucky to see this phenomenon. For more information on robins, please visit our bird A-Z.
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