Leucism in the Red-backed Shrike

NeuntöterDuring a search of a known migratory birding spot in north-west Cyprus, a “white” shrike was observed on the outskirts of the area used as a camping site, which was only sparsely park-like and which at first glance could not be a Great Grey Shrike (Lanius excubitor) despite the light color. The smaller size and especially the habit left no doubt that it had to be an abnormally colored Red-backed Shrike (Lanius collurio).

The basic coloring of the bird was white. However, light brown stripes on the flanks were clearly visible. Both the rump, as well as the secondaries and primaries and the tail were all white. The legs were light colored. The faint stiffening indicated a female red-backed shrike.

The bird used different perches within a small hedge. From there he made successful foraging trips to the nearby, sparsely overgrown but insect-rich fallow land. After all, he accepted the approach by car up to a distance of about 15 meters. At the 3rd attempt to get closer, he pulled himself into the interior of the hedge with the typical hard “teck-teck” calls in return. The next day the bird was gone.

A partner of the bird could not be identified during the entire observation time of about 10 minutes; but there were other Red-backed Shrike in the area believed to be a stepping stone on the route from Africa to Europe.

Based on the characteristics described and as seen in the photographs, the bird is a leucistic Red-backed Shrike, if not part an albino. Leucistic birds have more or less white plumage, but always have pigmentation on the eyes and legs. In albinos, the pigmentation is completely absent, which is why eyes then appear reddish, legs and feet more flesh-colored. The eyes appear too dark (not reddish) for a real albino, while legs and feet appear clearly flesh-colored.

The light gray beak could indicate a one-year-old bird, unless albinism also affects beak color in an adult bird. It is evident that the bird had successfully survived at least one wintering in Africa.

In Europe, individuals of different species with such color deviations are observed more frequently, and bird-lens.com had already reported on a very light colored Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and on a Desert Lark (Ammomanes deserti) in the Emirates. In general, however, birds with these color defects are very rare.

Research on the general frequency of albino and leucistic Red-backed Shrike, which Günter Barth and Günter Nicklaus did in the article “On the observation of a leucistic Red-backed Shrike, Lanius collurio in the Noswendeler Bruch” in Lanius 35, 2014: pp. 53-57, yielded results for the time from 1950 to 2012 a total of only twelve cases.

To cope with the growing demand for top shots of the rarer species of the Palearctic Bird-Lens is keen to enrich the range of pictures of birds you can find in the western palearctic.  Trips to remote places like this one to capture images not only of rare birds of western palearctic were very successful. The nice image of the blog is only a first impression, what you will find in the gallery in the “Picture Shop” very soon. Just give bird-lens.com a message, if bird-lens.com could serve you with an image needed before the new pictures are online.

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