Odd bird

While at the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park we spent some time resting at the various camps during the hotter hours of the day. Apart from the badly needed siestas we also spent time at the various camps’ waterholes or just sitting under the shade, waiting for the sun to go down to be able to do one more game drive before the day was over.

It was during one of these breaks at Twee Rivieren -the main camp at the park- that we spotted a bird that, at first, I took for a Southern Pied Babbler (Turdoides bicolor) that I had spotted earlier at Hwange National Park.


Southern Pied Babbler.

As the bird was resident among the bungalows we were staying in, I could watch it at length. After a while I noted that it was among several Cape Glossy Starlings (Lamprotornis nitens) and only then I realized that it was in fact a white starling, an odd bird!

The bird was of a dirty white colour overall with the exception of its primaries that were dark blue. Its bill and legs were pinkish and the eyes were the normal bright orange-yellow colour[1]. Its behaviour and call did not differ from other normally coloured starlings of the same species present in the area. The white bird seemed to be totally accepted by the other members of the flock and it was oblivious to its strikingly different coloration behaving as one more of the group!


I took several pictures of the find and decided that it was worthwhile following it up as it was the first time that I had seen such a variant. So, I Googled it once back in Harare and I came across very interesting information that convinced me that it was worth reporting it in a journal[2]. This post is based on the publication that followed.

Animal coloration can deviate from the standard, from complete melanism to albinism. Leucism (leukism) is one of the intermediate forms defined as a phenotype resulting from blemishes in pigment cell differentiation during development with the consequence that the entire animal or patches of its body being white as they lack the cells capable of making pigment[3].

The most commonly seen leucistic animals are “blotchy” and a number of bird species showing various degrees of leucism in the UK and elsewhere have been recorded, including Blackbird (Turdus merula), Jackdaw (Corvus monedula), House sparrow (Passer domesticus), Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) and Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) among others.[4]

As expected, leucism also takes place in southern Africa in several species including Blue Crane (Anthropoides paradiseus), Cape Sugarbird (Promerops cafer), Natal Spurfowl (Pternistes natalensis), African Stonechat (Saxicola torquatus), Fiscal Flycatcher (Sigelus silens), Magpie Shrike (Corvinella melanoleuca), Spotted Eagle-Owl (Bubo africanus) and Ludwig’s Bustard (Neotis ludwigii).[5],[6]. A blotchy Cape Glossy Starling has also been recorded from the Kalahari[5].

As the bird was resident at Twee Rivieren and it appeared strong, it would be interesting to follow its life to determine if it is able to pass on its leucistic characteristics to future progenies in the area.




[1] Roberts 2012-2013. Roberts VII Multimedia Birds of Southern Africa. iPhone and iPad Edition, Version 2. 2012-2013.

[2] de Castro J and de Castro M (2016). Leucistic Cape Glossy Starling, Lamprotornis nitens. Biodiversity Observations, Vol 7.74: 1-3. URL: http://bo.adu.org.za/content.php?id=267Published online: 10 October 2016

[3] Sibley, D 2011. Abnormal coloration in birds: Melanin reduction. Accessed on 1 October 2016. http://www.sibleyguides.com/2011/08/abnormal-coloration-in-birdsmelanin-reduction/

[4] British Trust for Ornithology (no date). Accessed on 4 January 2017. https://www.bto.org/volunteer-surveys/gbw/gardens-wildlife/garden-birds/behaviour/plumage/leucism

[5] Benadie, M 2007. Avian Colour Oddities. Accessed on 27 September 2016.http://www.birdinfo.co.za/rarebirds/25_avian_colour_oddities.htm

[6] Little, R 2014. Bright white. Leucism and albinism in birds. African Birdlife July/August p14-15. Accessed on 27 September 2016. http://www.fitzpatrick.uct.ac.za/sites/default/files/image_tool/images/275/Publications/semi-popular/2014/AB02(5)14-15.pdf

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