January 24, 2012
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!
A 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.