That's no Snowy Owl... It's a Leucistic Red-Tailed Hawk!

January 24, 2012 Posted by: NPS Staff

The CRNRA is home to several species of birds, both year-round dwellers like the Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and also migratory passers-through, like the Sandhill Crane (Grus canadensis). In fact, we have 192 confirmed species!

Leucistic Red-tailed HawkA very common sighting is the Red-tailed Hawk, Buteo jamaicensis. These hawks can be seen from coast to coast and from Mexico up to Canada. They are the most common raptor in North America. (Not Velociraptor from Jurrasic Park, but rather raptor meaning "birds of prey", from the Latin rapere, which means to sieze or take by force.)

A much less common sighting (here or anywhere) is a leucistic Red-tailed Hawk. Leucism is a genetic condition in which parts or all of an animal's body surface lack cells capable of producing any type of pigment. (The word is derived from the Greek word leukos, meaning "white".) You may be familiar with Piebald horses, known for their splotchy "paint" pattern. These horses are actually leucistic!

Leucism is similar to albinism (and frequently mistaken for it), however, albinos lack the ability to create melanin, one specific type of pigment. Leucistic individuals usually have normal eye color, unlike albinos, which generally have red eyes.

Because the frequency of leucism in a given species is dependent on the population size, it's not surprising that there is a relatively high occurrence of leucistic Red-tailed Hawks. (Another frequently-seen leucistic bird is the American Robin.)

While researching leucistic Red-tailed Hawks, we stumbled upon a very interesting video from our friends at the Chattahoochee Nature Center. Turns out they helped rehabilitate this hawk after he was found injured last year. Their wildlife clinic helped him regain his health and they re-released him into the wild in the fall.

You can watch the video of his release and hear from the folks at the Nature Center here (currently not available), and for a chance to see him in person, come visit our Island Ford unit, where we've seen him flying around more than once.

Leucistic Red-tailed Hawk

36 Comments Comments Icon

  1. margie - Brookwood, alabama
    November 15, 2015 at 07:50

    I saw a solid white hawk on my mail route...I stopped and watched it soar above me on a lonely dirt road ....breath taking!

  2. margie - Brookwood, alabama
    November 15, 2015 at 07:50

    I saw a solid white hawk on my mail route...I stopped and watched it soar above me on a lonely dirt road ....breath taking!

  3. Jeff - Yampa, Colorado
    October 05, 2015 at 06:29

    One was spotted in North Routt County about a week ago and made the Steamboat Pilot newspaper. The Hawk must be making his way South because we were lucky enough to see the raptor on October 2nd and 3rd in South Routt County. Beautiful!

    September 25, 2015 at 10:50

    Saw a solid white colored hawk fly and land on a corner of a building near where I work. It was magnificent.

  5. Susan - Falmouth, Maine
    September 14, 2015 at 04:55

    One of these Leucistic Red Tails just took one of my rare breed chickens about an hour ago. My daughters and I got up to literally three-feet away from the hawk on the ground with my bird in its talons. The three of us women charging at the hawk, cussing and yelling; I know we shocked the big bird. We four (the hawk included) stood there for a few stunned moments. It stood still until we were close enough we could have tackled it (of course we didn't and would never). Once I determined the chicken was dead, I told my girls to leave the hawk alone, but she/he was already in flight with my baby in its clutches before I could get the words out. We tracked the hawk to a tree that my daughter believes it nests in. My kid has good instinct. Too bad my bird didn't have as good of reflexes or defenses. I told my daughters that at least the hawk will eat well tonight and that that is farming. They already understood from previous losses. That's farming. We have, however, decided to relinquish the honor of feeding expensive birds to the ever beautiful Leucistic Red Tailed Hawk. It will have to find its own meal ticket from now on. Beautiful hawk though. Big, beautiful.

  6. John - Trempealeau, WI
    August 26, 2015 at 05:27

    We have one that seems to be setting up household at Perrot State Park, where I am the Naturalist.

  7. Randy - Mount Olive, NC
    August 10, 2015 at 01:26

    A neighbor of ours has been telling me he has seen 2 white birds that look like hawks in trees behind his house. This weekend my husband saw 3 large birds flying over our pond. One was a normal colored red-tailed hawk and the other 2 were white.

  8. Randy - Mount Olive, NC
    August 10, 2015 at 01:26

    A neighbor of ours has been telling me he has seen 2 white birds that look like hawks in trees behind his house. This weekend my husband saw 3 large birds flying over our pond. One was a normal colored red-tailed hawk and the other 2 were white.

  9. -,
    August 06, 2015 at 10:07

    June 23, 2015 at 12:25

    I spend most evening sitting on my patio watching all birds. I have a great view of some very large trees in neighboring yards. Several nights ago I heard screeching and then noticed a hawk flying into one of the tall trees in my neighbors yard. It then came out and circled through my yard closeup. Unfortunately I did not have my camera but it did happen so fast I am not sure I would have been able to capture it. Tonight, June 22nd was a spectacular viewing. There are 2 birds.. that flew out from the tall trees so I presume there is a nest. They both scanned the yards high up. To my surprise I did capture a blurry picture after dark as they soared above and screeching. The are pure white under body. Definitely pure white as I did see the one at dusk and i definitely is pure white. As were the 2 tonight. It was a fascinating display tonight and I cant wait for tomorrow. I am no birding expert but will continue to monitor them on my patio starting at 7:30 - 9:30 pm and hope to get some pictures. I live in Sun City Roseville in Northern California

  11. Joy - Perru, Ga
    June 14, 2015 at 05:28

    Had several hawks in the yard today hanging around my feeders. Was really surprised to see a leucistic Red-Tail. I followed him and his buddies around the property for about 15 minutes. Just amazing to see them flying through the woods.

  12. Richard - Guthrie, OK
    June 09, 2015 at 01:33

    Saw one at a farm 5 miles west of Guthrie, Oklahoma on 6 June 2015.

  13. John - Hudson, Wisconsin
    June 04, 2015 at 03:14

    Breathtaking! Saw one today with its mate on a power line in Woodbury, Minnesota. Probably a once in a life time event. So thankful for the beauty in nature.

  14. Yuvonne - Williamsport, PA
    May 30, 2015 at 03:10

    One of these swooped into our back yard and made off a female blackbird. It was magnificent. The males gave chase, but no luck.

  15. Sherry - Blairsville, GA
    May 25, 2015 at 07:46

    So excited to see this beautiful white red tail this evening. He was being harassed by several small birds. Very white along US129 in Union co GA.

  16. Thomas L Swanson - Eden Prairie, MN
    May 09, 2015 at 05:57

    May 9th about 600 PM Kerry Lane - saw one swoop into yard - thought it was a seagull at first, except seagulls don't do that. As it flew out toward the southeast, it flew like a hawk. Bet it is the same one seen earlier on May 4 in Eden Prairie.

  17. Michael - Eden Prairie, MN
    May 04, 2015 at 01:23

    I just spotted one in Eden Prairie Minnesota. A neat sight for sure!

  18. Timothy - Beldenville, Wi
    April 28, 2015 at 12:00

    I have been in my turkey blind and have seen a hawk. It is all white except for black around the wings. Same size as a Red Tail I have never seen one before and I am outside a lot.

  19. Jill - menomonie, wisconsin
    April 26, 2015 at 06:12

    We just saw this bird flying over our fields-amazing sight!

  20. Keith - Eastlake, OH
    April 26, 2015 at 12:46

    One landed on the roof of our house today. Was there for at least an hour

  21. Matt - Rexburg, Idaho
    April 11, 2015 at 03:39

    Saw this bird today! Thought it was an albino hawk till I did some research. What a cool bird!

  22. Jeff - Otsego, MN
    March 31, 2015 at 01:36

    Michele Thies, can I ask you where you saw this Hawk? I think that I may have seen it today also. I live in Otsego, MN. Please email me at Thank you!

  23. Michele Theis - Saint Francis, MN
    March 29, 2015 at 09:59

    We saw one today! Thought it was a snowy owl at first but when it took flight it clearly wasn't. Beautiful!

  24. Robert - Warwick, New York
    March 27, 2015 at 02:21

    Returning from a hike near Goose Pond State Park my daughter and I spotted a white Red Tail perched in a tree some distance away. The bird created quite a commotion stopping cars as it was quite showy and spectacular. March 27,2015.

  25. Diana - Alpharetta, GA
    March 24, 2015 at 11:57

    I just searched on "albino red tail hawk" and was happy to find this blog...I was just graced by the presence of a "leucistic" red-tail hawk in my back yard - beautiful! (thanks for the info & education, National Park Service!)

  26. Janice - Hopedale, MA
    March 19, 2015 at 11:37

    Just saw one of these perched in pine tree. Flew off,banked right trying to catch thermal,perched again in really tall pine.Couldn't get a photo.Awesome to see.

  27. Bill - Bloomingdale, Oh
    March 15, 2015 at 10:19

    I've seen one several times near the Pittsburgh,Pa airport. Also my wife has seen one south of Marrietta, Oh along I-77.

  28. Martha - Flora, MS
    February 18, 2015 at 06:00

    We have had one of these perching in oak trees in our back yard this week and also first thought white owl.

  29. Dora - Valley Forge, PA
    February 17, 2015 at 03:30

    Spotted this hawk from the rear in Valley Forge National Park (Oakwood Lane/Valley Creek area). Like Elissa, my first thought was Snowy, but it was clearly not an owl. I was stumped by the white back and wings on a buteo. Thanks for great I.D. details.

  30. Penny - Poughquag, NY
    January 20, 2015 at 02:22

    Thank you for clearing-up my mystery bird! She has been seen on the property since early fall. Today I got a glimpse of her red tail and of the tail of the animal she was carrying...a raccoon!

  31. jeff - piscataway, NJ
    January 19, 2015 at 06:00

    busch/livingston campus rutgers university. Have been seeing one here from appx oct-may for the last 6 or 7 years.Mostly on the livingston side of rt.18

  32. Lucy - Manitowoc, WI
    January 19, 2015 at 05:09

    We saw one yesterday. My daughter spotted it. We figured out what it was, because she noticed it had a little red on it's tail. It had black edges on it's wings but otherwise all white, Gorgeous

  33. Brenda - Marion, Oh
    January 04, 2015 at 06:26

    Saw one in Marion OH on Jan 2, 2015!!!

  34. Veronica - Plainfield, NH
    October 14, 2014 at 09:30

    I have seen one of these hawks 2 days in a row now in the same area. I can't get close enough for a good picture but I have one that is pretty blurry. He screams the hawk scream and looks like a hawk but it pretty much all white from what I have seen at a distance.

  35. Elissa - Alexandria, VA
    December 13, 2013 at 06:56

    Wow, I guess we saw this bird on Nov 23 and again on Dec 1 off I-77 near Marietta, Ohio. Thought we were looking at a snowy owl. How beautiful to see this!

  36. Barbara - Wheeling, WV
    November 19, 2013 at 11:25

    Beautiful, amazing bird, i see one on my way to work and it took, myself and many photos to my vet to figure it out.

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