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by Stan Tekiela
March 11, 2019
I am fascinated by all aspects of nature. It doesn’t matter if its insects, reptiles, amphibians, plants, rocks or mammals I love it all. But for some reason, birds seem to be rise to the top of my interest meter. Perhaps it is because there are so many of them. There are over 10,000 species of birds in the world. By comparison, there are about half that number of mammals. Or perhaps it’s because you can look outside and see a bird at just about any time.
Birds range from the tiny hummingbirds to the gigantic flightless birds such as Ostrich and Emu. Some birds are incredibly common and are found throughout the world, such as the pigeon while others are rare, secretive and endangered. Some are brightly colored while others are camouflage.
It is estimated that there are between 300 and 400 billion individual birds on the planet compared to nearly 8 billion people. So, there’s not only a lot of different kinds of birds, but a huge amount of induvial birds in the world.
With all these unique birds there is bound to be some individuals that stand out. Recently I’ve been trying to capture images of these unique birds. I was filming a Great-tailed Grackle, which is a super common bird species, last month in Arizona when I noticed that it’s bill was over-grown to nearly double its normal size, and the upper bill was crossed over the lower bill. This bird had Avian Keratin Disorder (AKD). This condition causes the birds bill to grow exceptionally large or long and deformed. This is a serious condition that often leads to the death of the bird over time because the bill grows so large it can no longer eat. As of today, it’s unknown what causes this problem in birds.
Another common condition that affects birds is Leucism. In this condition, the bird doesn’t produce the normal pigments in the feathers, often leaving them looking very different from the normal plumage. Many times, this condition leaves the birds with white patches of feathers, such as all the feathers on the head or wings are white. This can happen in all bird species. It can range from a single feather to the entire body. I have photographed American Crows with a single white feather in their wing. I’ve also seen Red-tailed Hawks that were all white except for their red tail.
Leucism can also cause the birds plumage to look faint or bleached out. So, all the usual markings are visible on the bird, it just looks much duller. The blacks are brown, and the browns are tan.
Last week I was contacted by a homeowner who enjoys feeding birds. She told me about a particular Black-capped Chickadee that was coming to her feeders that didn’t look like the others. I always encourage the readers of this column and participants at my seminars to give me a call or email if they have something interesting like this on their property. Of course, one day I stopped by to look and see if I could capture some images of this leucitic bird.
After arriving it didn’t take long before the leucitic Black-capped Chickadee was visiting the feeders. I gathered up all my camera gear and tripod and set up in a place that wouldn’t scare the birds away but also allow me a good angle to see the bird visiting the feeder.
Soon enough a very pale Black-capped Chickadee arrived at the feeder. Like most chickadees they zip into the feeder, grab a seed and fly off, leaving very little time to capture an image. So, it took several visits of the bird to the feeders before the little bird stayed just long enough to allow me to capture some images.
Of course a bunch of normal colored Chickadee visited the feeders in nearly the same spot which allowed me to take some nice comparison images in the same position. I really enjoy the oddities in nature. Until next time…
Stan Tekiela is an author / naturalist and wildlife photographer who travels the U.S. to study and photograph wildlife. He can be followed on www.facebook.com and www.twitter.com. He can be contacted via his web page at www.naturesmart.com.
The nationally syndicated NatureSmart Column appears in over 25 cities spanning 7 states: Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Ohio, New York and Pennsylvania. It is a bi-weekly column circulated to over 750,000 readers.
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