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Dilute Plumage

10/8/2023


I learned something new, today. This morning, I headed down to Goose Pond FWA to look for sparrows. It is the start to one of my favorite times of the year. Yes, it is sparrow season. I am going to have an rather abbreviated season this year. I leave for vacation soon. In an attempt to make the most of sparrow season, I headed down to my favorite spot to look for sparrows. Activity was slow at first. The weeds are very tall this year, and there is very little foxtail. What foxtail there is is being overgrown by thistle. The area is also a bit dry. My hopes for a LeConte's or a Nelson's Sparrow this year are low.


What I did have was a decent (but still a low) number of Swamp Sparrows. I also had several Lincoln's and Savannah. Oddly, I only saw one Song Sparrow. Other species included a single Field Sparrow, a few Palm Warblers, several Common Yellowthroat, two Northern Harrier, a few reclusive immature White-crowned Sparrows, and lots of Red-winged Blackbirds. I also had a couple families of Sedge Wren. There were a number of flybys, too: Wood Duck and Mallard, a couple squadrons of American White Pelican, Wilson's Snipe, Greater Yellowlegs, a small flock of Tree Swallows, and some Sandhill Cranes.


While trying to pish out some sparrows on one side of the road, I could here the familiar grunting croak of a Sedge Wren coming from behind me. So, I turned around and started pishing at that side of the road. I was pleasantly surprised to see two or three birds working their way toward me. One popped up for some open shots before diving back down to crawl closer under the cover of the grasses. While watching this bird, I could see something bright and white flitting up and down in the distance. The bird slowly worked its way closer and then popped up behind some thin grasses. I could see that it was a white Sedge Wren. I stepped to where I could see it better and redoubled my efforts to pish it in. It disappeared. Going back to the others, I pished in a rather ragged looking juvenile that was clearly still molting some feathers. I turned to look to my right, and the pale bird was perched up and watching me. Finally, I was able to work out a few shots.


In the field, I would have called this a leucistic bird; meaning that the bird was failing to produce melanin for pigmentation. This is usually seen as patchy white spots on birds. In more extreme instances, everything but the eye of the bird lacks pigment and is white. Upon looking at the photos of this bird, this bird is definitely producing some melanin. The bird has some pigment throughout, but not enough pigment to produce the correct coloration. It looks like it has been dipped in a thin coat of white paint. This is referred to as "dilute plumage". I have never heard this term before or seen a bird quite like this. Pretty interesting. I was glad I got to get some pictures of this little guy.


Thanks for reading,

Mike



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