An Ohio family caught a glimpse of something of a unicorn in the birding world this week when an all-white ruby-throated hummingbird visited their back yard several times.
Andrea Gutka of Chardon Township in northeastern Ohio said the bird, which has all-white feathers along with pink eyes and a pink bill, is one of several that have been visiting flowers in the family's back yard recently, but it's presence really stood out. They've noticed an uptick in the number of hummingbirds in their yard this year.
"We put up some red patio furniture and that seemed to bring them in," Gutka told WTOL-TV.
Still, spotting the all-white bird was a real treat, Gutka said.
"We felt pretty privileged, yeah for sure," she said of spotting the rare bird in their yard. "We felt like we hit our own little lottery out here in the world of nature."
White coloration on birds or other animals can be caused by either leucism or albinism. Leucism is a genetic condition in which the pigment melanin is not deposited in some or all of the bird's feathers, so they are white, according to the National Audubon Society. Albinism results from a problem with an enzyme called tyrosinase that prevents the production of melanin, the pigment that gives color to a bird's feathers, skin and eyes.
A bird with leucism will still have a normal-colored bill and eyes and some feathers may have normal pigmentation, while birds with albinism, which is more rare, will have all-white feathers along with a pinkish bill and eyes. The pink eyes and bill on the ruby-throated hummingbird the Gutkas spotted would indicate it is albino.
These rare birds are often prized finds for birders and other nature enthusiasts. And while they typically generate a lot of buzz, unusually colored animals do pop up from time to time, even here in Will County. In August, a mostly white cardinal was spotted in New Lenox. In addition, a white great horned owl was spotted in Will County over the winter and an albino woodchuck was photographed in June in Lockport.
The all-white hummingbird the Gutkas spotted was likely migrating south for the winter. Most ruby-throated hummingbirds that spend summers in their breeding grounds in the northern United States and Canada migrate south to Mexico and Central America for the winter. This impressive journey often involves flying nonstop for more than 500 miles over the Gulf of Mexico, according to Journey North.
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