Thursday, May 7, 2015

A Brief Field Report: Leucistic Curve-billed Thrasher

Guest post by Joe Billings

While working on a self-designed water harvesting/native plant landscape project(“A Natural Desert Garden Refuge “/ The Landscaping Artist, southeastern Pima County), I spotted a bird—pure white in color—that looked from a distance, to be a Curve-billed Thrasher.

At the time, on Thursday, April 24th, I was conversing with two area residents, Jane and Ann, pointing out several spectacular native cholla stands, when the bird suddenly entered our visual field. A week or so prior, I had noticed a whitish blur of wings in the same vicinity, but without getting a good look, I assumed it was just another white pigeon. Working around to the opposite side of a magnificent silver cylindropuntia fulgida thicket, I was clearly able to confirm its identity, through my binocs, while sitting on the ground. Later that evening, taking my sister Linda’s advice—the only true birder of our family—I purchased a Canon Powershot camera and now equipped for the first time with zoom capabilities, resolved to get photos of this remarkable bird.

When I resumed the stalk for El Pajaro Blanco Magnifico the next day, I roamed a neighboring property where I had met and talked to a lady who had come out to greet me, on the previous day, while I was ‘salting’ the silver cholla thicket with bird seed after a quick trip over to the local ACE Hardware. She could not have been more friendly and gracious, asking: “Are you the landscaper?” and inviting me to enter and take photos wherever I wished. She said that the bird had shown up about a week before—coinciding with my first indistinct sighting—and had observed that the other thrashers would “pick on it” occasionally. Growing up surrounded by ample desert thickets with abundant thrashers and other ground foraging birds, this thrasher seemed just as familiar to me as your normal feisty thrasher.

I kept a respectful distance, although, not being used to my new camera, I used the pull-out screen rather than the viewfinder to take a series of pictures. According to Melissa Mayntz, of, as a professed birder of 30+ years experience: "Leucistic birds have an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation that prevents pigment—primarily melanin—from properly coloring a bird’s feathers." However, leucism affects only the feathers, leaving the normal eye coloration, as is readily visible in these photos. I hope to add more birds to my current list for the site upon which I’m working—30-35 at present—but so nice to add this gem!

Thanks and appreciation go out to area residents for their friendliness & access, and I hope to get some better ‘pics’ in the coming week!

Cheers, JB