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David Sibley explains what to look for the next time you see a partial albino bird

Feathers around the eyes and on the crown, nape, malar, and wings of this Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco lack all melanin pigment, leaving the bird with pied plumage. White feathers can appear in any pattern on partial albinos but on this bird are clustered along normal feather tracts. Art by David Allen Sibley.
Feathers around the eyes and on the crown, nape, malar, and wings of this Slate-colored Dark-eyed Junco lack all melanin pigment, leaving the bird with pied plumage. White feathers can appear in any pattern on partial albinos but on this bird are clustered along normal feather tracts. Art by David Allen Sibley.

Sooner or later everyone who watches birds will come across a real oddball. Some of the more frequently seen abnormal birds are the partial albinos. They can be all white, have white patches (a white head, perhaps), or appear pale grayish tan all over. Many terms are used for such birds, but I prefer simply to call them partial albinos. (Leucistic means the same thing.)

View photo gallery of albino and partial albino birds.

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David Sibley

David Sibley

David Sibley writes the column “ID Toolkit” in every issue of BirdWatching. He published the Sibley Guide to Birds in 2000, the Sibley Guide to Bird Life and Behavior in 2001, and Sibley’s Birding Basics in 2002. He is also the author of the Sibley Guide to Trees (2009), the Sibley Guide to Birds-Second Edition (2014), and guides to birds of eastern and western North America (2016). He is the recipient of the American Birding Association’s Roger Tory Peterson Award for lifetime achievement in promoting the cause of birding and a recognition award from the National Wildlife Refuge System for his support of bird conservation.

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