LAKE SHETEK - Most people know the sighting of an American robin after a long winter means that spring is clearly on its way, but what does it mean when the robin is white?
Around the Lake Shetek area, it means that a lot of good conversations are going to be taking place.
Vicki Doeden, Shetek Environmental Learning Center educator, said she's been seeing the unique white robin for just over a week now.
Photo by Jenny Kirk
A white robin was observed near the Shetek Environmental Learning Center on Keeley Island on Lake Shetek recently. Since only the feathers are affected, the bird is not considered to be albino like many people believe, but rather, it’s said be the result of a genetic mutation called leucism, which is very unusual but not as rare as albinism.
"I suspect there's more of them," Doeden said. "I've seen them here for a couple of years. It could be genetically passed down, so I don't know if it's the same one all the time."
Elementary students on a field trip to the learning center this week also spotted the oddity.
"They were amazed by it," Doeden said. "They didn't think it was a robin."
The second- and third-grade students called it "the white bird," Doeden said.
"We ended up having a good conversation," Doeden said. "We talked about pigment. It's neat that the kids got to see it. And it was a natural occurrence, something you didn't plan. It was exciting."
Though most people believe a non-typical white bird is the result of a genetic condition, it's often difficult, at first glance, to determine whether it is due to rare albinism or very unusual leucism.
Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin in the entire body of the bird, or animal. On careful inspection, a bird with albinism will have pink or red eyes, a pale bill and legs and will show no color in their feathers.
In leucism, only a bird's feathers, which can be patchy or pure white, are affected. Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents melanin from being properly deposited on feathers.
"Robins are an easier bird for us to observe because they're always hopping around," Doeden said. "The white one stands out so much more. It's more vulnerable because it's a lot easier to spot."
While the Shetek Lutheran Ministries area, located on Keeley Island on Lake Shetek, is a prime, safe haven for birds and animals, seeing one with albinism or leucism is extremely uncommon.
"It's fabulous here, with all these trees," Doeden said. "But the only other fluke I've seen is a white squirrel. It's fun. And, it's not very often that people are going to see something like that."