Home of the Practically Perfect Pink Phlox and other native plants for pollinators

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Leucism, or a bird of a different feather

This is the second winter that I've seen this faded beauty at the feeder. As a matter of fact, she/he may live in the garden since Goldfinches and House Finches are year round residents in our gardens.
When birds have unusual or faded plumage coloration they're called leucistic. They have a genetic mutation and it can affects them differently. Some have white patches on their colorful plumage, while, others look like they've been dipped in bleach or have faded in the sun. It makes identifying them quite difficult! Which is why I am calling this beauty a finch, although, I think it might be a Goldfinch! For that matter, maybe it's two different leucistic birds, but, I think it's the same one!
February 2015
The leucistic Goldfinch that is visiting the winter feeders is lovely, but, my understanding is that these birds have a difficult time in the wild. The mutation that prevents pigments from coloring their feathers might make it difficult for them to attract mates. After all, colorful plumage is part of many of bird mating rituals. There's also a possibility that their feathers might not be as strong as a "normal" pigmented bird; or, that they might not be as well insulated for the winter, making survival in a harsh world especially difficult.
So far this cutie pie is surviving at Clay and Limestone. There's plenty of food, water and winter cover. It only has to hide in the trees and stay out of the way of the hawks that like to cruise above Clay and Limestone! That's another problem with which leucistic critters have to contend. They don't have protective coloring that their normal plumage would offer.

Keep feeding the birds and watching for unusual plumage.

More posts about birds at Clay and Limestone:
Oh, How I love you little Nuthatch
Winter is for the birds
At the birdfeeder
Garden Visitors
I do it for the birds
The Tufted Titmouse

Gail Eichelberger is a gardener and therapist in Middle Tennessee. She loves wildflowers and native plants and thoroughly enjoys writing about the ones she grows at Clay and Limestone. She reminds all that the words and images are the property of the author and cannot be used without written permission.


  1. How interesting. I always learn something new on your blog.~~Dee

  2. Beautiful photos and very interesting information!
    You should link this up to Stewart's Wild Bird Wednesday meme.
    I hope Friday's winter storm is not as harsh as predicted.
    (north Mississippi)

  3. I once saw a white robin, but that was so many years ago and haven't seen anything like this since. Glad you could capture it and share! It's actually a really pretty coloration...

  4. How fun to have a Leucistic bird at your feeders. I love seeing all the visitors at the feeders. A couple years ago Donna (Garden Walk, Garden Talk) and I did a duo posting on Leucistic sparrows. Nature is sure interesting.

    1. It really is...I also have seen a leucistic cardinal in the garden.

  5. Fascinating stuff! I've never heard that word before. I love watching the birds, and my indoor kitty does too.

  6. Oh, she is like the black swan of the finch world. She is really adorable. Looks like she found a good place in your garden.

  7. Oh what a darling little birdie! How fun to have the mellow yellow flitting around your garden.

  8. You should learn at least one new thing every day.

    Now that you have helped me accomplish that task, I guess I can go back to bed! ;-)

    PS - On snowy days like today, maybe leucistic birds have an advantage?

  9. Interesting bit of information, great supporting photos. We have always had hawks looking for easy prey, but now that the bald eagle population has expanded I see them flying over looking for lunch and supper as well.

  10. What a beautiful little bird, Gail. Thanks for sharing her/him! It looks to me like you're correct about this being a leucistic goldfinch - I wouldn't have expected to find a mutation like this to be so charming. Glad your yard provides a safe sanctuary.

  11. Lucky creature to have your sanctuary to call home. :o)

  12. My in-laws had a beautiful leucistic robin that would visit their garden. They are so pretty, though I do feel bad that they have a tougher time of it out there.

  13. What a cutie! Once again, you have taught me something new, Gail. I would suspect this bright yellow plumage would make him a susceptible target for hawks; glad he has the safety of your garden to hide in.

  14. Hi there and thanks for the link to WBW. I'm just back from a longish trip away, hence slow visit.

    These little (and some times not so little) variations in plumage are always great to see - and they often make identifying the bird more difficult. On Lord Howe (where I was on holiday) there were lots of Blackbirds (an introduced species) with pale patches and strange marks - must be the result of in-breeding!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

  15. That little bird really looks like a tiny canary! Fitting since goldfinches sound a lot like canaries.


"Insects are the little things that run the world." Dr. E O Wilson