Albinism and Leucism Albinistic Rock Pigeon by Maria Corcacas, Middletown, New York Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents the production of melanin (but not other pigments). Some colors come from pigments other than melanin, such as carotenoids. Albinism only applies to an absence of melanin; consequently, it is possible for a bird to be albinistic and still have color, although most consider true albinism to be an absence of all pigment. Leucistic Dark-eyed Junco, by Gary Mueller, Rolla, Missouri Leucism refers to an abnormality in the deposition of pigment in feathers. There is some disagreement as to whether the condition is genetic or caused by pigment cells that were damaged during development. Whatever the cause, the condition can result in a reduction in all types of pigment, causing pale or muted colors on the entire bird. Or the condition can cause irregular patches of white, and birds with these white patches are sometimes described as “pied” or “piebald.” Albinistic birds have pink eyes because without melanin in the body, the only color in the eyes comes from the blood vessels behind the eyes. It is possible for a bird to be completely white and still have melanin in the body, as when a white bird has dark eyes. In this case the bird would be considered leucistic because the mutation only applies to depositing melanin in the feathers, not the absence of melanin in the body. Pied Northern Cardinal by Anne Page, Broad Run, Virginia A third type of mutation that results in pied birds–birds that have white patches–is called partial albinism by some and leucism by others. The white patches are caused by an absence of pigment in some feathers. Carolina Chickadee with white tail feathers, probably from a close call with a predator. Feathers likely will be replaced with feathers of a normal color during next regular molt. Photo by Vincent Smith, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. To further confuse things, occasionally a bird will lose feathers in a close call with a predator. When this happens the new feathers sometimes grow in white and then change back to the normal color at the next regular molt. This kind of white coloring looks like leucism but is not and most frequently happens in the tail, causing a bird that lost its tail feathers to a predator to have an all white tail.