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

22 Comments Comments Icon

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

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

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

  4. 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.

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

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

  6. 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

  7. 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!

  8. 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!

  9. 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!

  10. 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.

  11. 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!)

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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

  18. 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

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

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

  20. 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.

  21. 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!

  22. 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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