Talk about an odd bird–a bald eagle with white spots has been seen in Washington State.
Photographers Chris Teren and Traci Walter snapped the bird feeding on the Nooksack River, near Bellingham (map), on January 6. (Also see “‘White,’ Albino-like Penguin Found in Antarctica.”)
“It was chaotic, with eagles flying and calling everywhere, then in came this eagle. It didn’t take me long to figure out what we saw was something very special,” Walter told National Geographic News by email.
“I was so excited, but I contained myself and focused on this eagle, and wound up with some great shots. I have seen a couple leucistic animals before, and figured that’s what was going on.”
Indeed, the animal likely has leucism, according to Andrew Griswold, an expert on bald eagles and director of ecotravel for the Connecticut Audubon Society.
Leucism is a mutation that prevents melanin, or pigment, from being produced in parts of an animal’s body. In the case of birds, the pigment is absent from some feathers.
Another condition that creates white coloration in animals is albinism, which occurs when an animal produces no melanin at all throughout its entire body. (See pictures of albino animals.)
Bald eagles on the cusp of adulthood have similar mottled feathers, but in this case, the bird has the telltale golden eyes and beak of an adult, added Teresa McGill, a wildlife photographer with McGill’s Nature in Motion. The pure-white head is also a sign of adulthood.
“This is an extremely mature eagle, [and it’s] not just going through its change of plumage. Beautiful!” McGill said by email. …