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


75 Comments Comments icon

  1. C J - Lena, Il
    August 11, 2016 at 07:45

    Sighted the white hawk flying around the timber area and out toward the fields making a screeching /screaming sound during the days while flying. Seemed to have nested in the timber/ wooded area. Had a pair of chickens out for their afternoon exercise/ walk which they have done for two years but the hawk was seeking them out over the past two weeks but someone was always in the area mowing or at least visible. This afternoon /eve no one was present and the hawk took advantage of the white hen. C J found only a few feathers on the ground, no blood or bones. The hawk had to just swooped down grabbed and carried the chicken off.Later fond a few feathers closer to the timber. This hawk has a nest there.Now all the chickens will be kept in and left out only when someone is in the area. No more free range for the chickens.

  2. Sue - Roswell, GA
    August 03, 2016 at 07:16

    He sat on a tree limb in our back yard for quite a while and then tried to capture a snake on the ground just below our deck. What a beautiful bird in flight.

  3. Sue - Roswell, GA
    August 03, 2016 at 07:16

    He sat on a tree limb in our back yard for quite a while and then tried to capture a snake on the ground just below our deck. What a beautiful bird in flight.

  4. Rob - Prairie Grove, Arkansas
    June 15, 2016 at 02:19

    Saw one June 6, 2016 flying along Cove Creek. It was gorgeous.

  5. Todd - Westminster, CO
    June 02, 2016 at 08:47

    Flying through an urban park, being mobbed by crows before landing in a tree.

  6. Kory Longley - Eden Prairie, MN
    March 22, 2016 at 02:44

    March 22nd 2016. Driving on 494 North between Valley View Rd and Hwy 62. Seen it at 3:30 pm sitting up in a tree. Wow ,what an amazing thing to see. I wish I would of got a picture.

  7. mason - Earl Boro, Oklahoma
    February 26, 2016 at 03:32

    I was just driving down the road and say a white hawk. Another day he was sitting on my deer feeder .

  8. Travis - Bardstown, Kentucky
    February 26, 2016 at 06:35

    Yesterday we saw a big white bird flying around thought it was a snowy owl then come to realize it was a white Hawk it paired up with a Nother Redtail hawk beautiful bird flying through the sky! It had red tail feathers with a solid white body and wings

  9. Todd - Beaver Dam, Kentucky
    February 25, 2016 at 12:51

    Me and a friend of mine were fishing at Lake Breshear just outside of Dawson Springs, Ky. when we spotted a pair of red tailed hawks and one of those were totally white. This one had no dark splotches on it. I contacted my local wildlife biologist and he explained to me that he had seen one before, but not totally white. Our sighting was February 20th, 2016 about 1:00 pm.

  10. Matthew C. Jones - Roswell, GA
    February 21, 2016 at 06:58

    I was just fly fishing at the bottom of Island Ford on Feb-21st-2016. Decided to hike through Island Ford and get a better spot since I was not catching anything. As I was walking through I noticed a White Owl at 4:06pm. However when I got closer I discovered it was not an owl but some kind for bird of prey. Coming off the island I ran into another fly-fisherman and told him what I saw. He send me this web site via text and I couldn't leave without leaving a post. This is the next best thing to BIG-FOOT! Because I know I did in-fact see the same one that was released and it hasn't gotten a name. This Hawk's Name is now Harold. I did not catch any trout, however I did meet Harold unexpectedly on island ford. (Captured via I-phone5 Video) Matthew Jones

  11. Matthew C. Jones - Roswell, Ga
    February 21, 2016 at 06:55

    I was just fly fishing at the bottom of Island Ford on Feb-21st-2016. Decided to hike through Island Ford and get a better spot since I was not catching anything. As I was walking through I noticed a White Owl at 4:06pm. However when I got closer I discovered it was not an owl but some kind for bird of prey. Coming off the island I ran into another fly-fisherman and told him what I saw. He send me this web site via text and I couldn't leave without leaving a post. This is the next best thing to BIG-FOOT! Because I know I did in-fact see the same one that was released and it hasn't gotten a name. This Hawk's Name is now Harold. I did not catch any trout, however I did meet Harold unexpectedly on island ford. (Captured via I-phone5 Video) Matthew Jones

  12. Matthew C. Jones - Roswell, Ga
    February 21, 2016 at 06:55

    I was just fly fishing at the bottom of Island Ford on Feb-21st-2016. Decided to hike through Island Ford and get a better spot since I was not catching anything. As I was walking through I noticed a White Owl at 4:06pm. However when I got closer I discovered it was not an owl but some kind for bird of prey. Coming off the island I ran into another fly-fisherman and told him what I saw. He send me this web site via text and I couldn't leave without leaving a post. This is the next best thing to BIG-FOOT! Because I know I did in-fact see the same one that was released and it hasn't gotten a name. This Hawk's Name is now Harold. I did not catch any trout, however I did meet Harold unexpectedly on island ford. (Captured via I-phone5 Video) Matthew Jones

  13. Matthew C. Jones - Roswell, Ga
    February 21, 2016 at 06:54

    I was just fly fishing at the bottom of Island Ford on Feb-21st-2016. Decided to hike through Island Ford and get a better spot since I was not catching anything. As I was walking through I noticed a White Owl at 4:06pm. However when I got closer I discovered it was not an owl but some kind for bird of prey. Coming off the island I ran into another fly-fisherman and told him what I saw. He send me this web site via text and I couldn't leave without leaving a post. This is the next best thing to BIG-FOOT! Because I know I did in-fact see the same one that was released and it hasn't gotten a name. This Hawk's Name is now Harold. I did not catch any trout, however I did meet Harold unexpectedly on island ford. (Captured via I-phone5 Video) Matthew Jones

  14. Andy Chen - kerby, Oregon
    February 15, 2016 at 09:52

    They are my friends, sounds wried, but they call me and when I call them, they comes.

  15. Barbara - Chester, NY
    February 14, 2016 at 09:08

    I believe I saw a white hawk. At first I thought it was a snowy owl. There was also another regular hawk near it. It was spotted about 5 pm on Feb 14, 2016.

  16. Barbara - Warwick,, Ny
    February 14, 2016 at 07:03

    Saw a leucistic feb,14 2016 Large,spectacular! Will try to bring camera with zoom lense soon. If lucky, I will try to add the pics to this site!

  17. Barbara - Warwick,, Ny
    February 14, 2016 at 07:02

    Saw a leucistic feb,14 2016 Large,spectacular! Will try to bring camera with zoom lense soon. If lucky, I will try to add the pics to this site!

  18. Ed - Bellingham, MA
    February 14, 2016 at 05:00

    I spotted the first one I had ever seen this morning off of Taunton St. in Bellingham. At first glance I thought it was a small Snowy Owl. I was able to get a few quick pictures before it flew off but am hoping to get some better quality ones now that I know it's around.

  19. Ed - Bellingham, MA
    February 14, 2016 at 04:59

    I spotted the first one I had ever seen this morning off of Taunton St. in Bellingham. At first glance I thought it was a small Snowy Owl. I was able to get a few quick pictures before it flew off but am hoping to get some better quality ones now that I know it's around.

  20. Ann Marie - Surf City, NJ
    February 11, 2016 at 03:17

    Driving on 295 south in Marlton, NJ at aprox 12:50 pm on 2/11/16, my sister and I saw a hawk fly cross the highway. It landed on a tree on our side and as we went by we realized that it was almost white! We found your site and WOW that is what we saw! Thank you!

  21. Shawna - Alplaus, NY
    February 07, 2016 at 12:28

    We have had one of these "white Red-tail Hawks" in the neighborhood for many years now. She has a normal colored mate and they have successfully nested. Not knowing how long these birds live makes me wonder if maybe we are on a second generation now. But it is so predictable where it will be spotted that I think it has been the same bird all along. And I don't think an offspring would nest in the same nest.

  22. Connie - Fredericksburg, Texas
    February 06, 2016 at 03:02

    We've been watching a white red tailed hawk for several months now. Love watching it swoop down by the creek and hoping it sticks around. It was flying with another hawk recently so hoping they'll make a nest in the spring!

  23. Connie - Fredericksburg, Texas
    February 06, 2016 at 03:01

    We've been watching a white red tailed hawk for several months now. Love watching it swoop down by the creek and hoping it sticks around. It was flying with another hawk recently so hoping they'll make a nest in the spring!

  24. Connie - Fredericksburg, Texas
    February 06, 2016 at 03:00

    We've been watching a white red tailed hawk for several months now. Love watching it swoop down by the creek and hoping it sticks around. It was flying with another hawk recently so hoping they'll make a nest in the spring!

  25. Donnie Craps - Mountain Rest, South Carolina
    February 05, 2016 at 03:36

    We saw the "White" Red Tail Hawk today flying with a Red Tail. It was amazing. We live in a river bottom close to the corn field they we hunting. We will continue to watch for the pair.

  26. Donnie Craps - Mountain Rest, South Carolina
    February 05, 2016 at 03:35

    We saw the "White" Red Tail Hawk today flying with a Red Tail. It was amazing. We live in a river bottom close to the corn field they we hunting. We will continue to watch for the pair.

  27. Bob - Davenport, NY
    February 03, 2016 at 07:11

    I have one living on and about my property for at least three years. It was just positively I.D. by an ornithologist as a RED TAILED HAWK. I have several photos that I will post in the near future and expect to acquire several more shortly as it is feeding on a deer carcass on my property. Jan. 30, 2016

  28. Deb - Penn Yan, NY
    January 30, 2016 at 12:43

    So glad to see this page! I saw one last year and everyone looked at me like I was crazy when I told them about it. Well my daughter just saw one in the same area as I saw one last year. Hubby said it must be an owl but I saw this up close and as your title states....it ain't no snowy owl! It gives me something to look for on my way to work each day.

  29. Carolyn - Centerport, New York
    January 15, 2016 at 01:36

    Too bad you can't post photos here. I spotted one last night on my way home from work. Took the road less traveled and came upon this beauty. I stood and watched it in awe. He/she starred right back at me. It was a truly magical experience.

  30. Sue - Derry, NH
    January 08, 2016 at 07:04

    Saw one this morning in Derry, NH. He was sitting on the power line in front of Market Basket. I looked him up as soon as I got to work. HE IS BEAUTIFUL !!!!!!

  31. First Name - Nancy, MA
    January 07, 2016 at 03:54

    It took us awhile to identify this local friend, but it was confirmed it be a Leucistic Red Tailed Hawk! He is a regular visitor in our home East Longmeadow, MA. 01/07/2016

  32. Steve - Aviston, IL
    December 26, 2015 at 12:39

    Spotted one near Aviston Illinois on Christmas Eve. Knew right away I was seeing something special

  33. Joseph hooker - Welcome, North carolina
    December 22, 2015 at 12:01

    Just saw a leucitic red tail hawk on a small pc.of family land..my nephew had told me about a large white bird he had been seeing while hunting there.finally saw it myself.wow.beautiful bird.

  34. Pam - Butler, Mo.
    December 12, 2015 at 09:00

    There is on of these wonderful birds living on our rural area. Very rare for western Mo. I think?

  35. Pam - Butler, Mo.
    December 12, 2015 at 09:00

    There is on of these wonderful birds living on our rural area. Very rare for western Mo. I think?

  36. Tama - Harpersfield, Ohio
    December 03, 2015 at 09:35

    I saw one this morning in the field behind my house flying from tree to tree. It was huge and white. I got a picture of it flying away. We live behind the Grand River and that's where it flew to.

  37. tracey - harrrison, arkansas
    November 29, 2015 at 08:18

    i saw one this morning.,so pretty,i hope to go back this week and get a picture.

  38. tracey - harrrison, arkansas
    November 29, 2015 at 08:17

    i saw one this morning.,so pretty,i hope to go back this week and get a picture.

  39. Maggie - Morgantown, GEorgia
    November 27, 2015 at 08:39

    Saw one this afternoon enroute to Blairsville. Pure white, in the grass, then flew into tree. When I crossed the road to photograph, hawk flew with uncommon grace into the woods.

  40. 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!

  41. 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!

  42. 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!

  43. MARY - TUCSON, AZ
    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.

  44. 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.

  45. 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.

  46. 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.

  47. 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.

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  49. HELEN - ROSEVILLE, CALIFORNIA
    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

  50. 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.

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

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

  52. 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.

  53. 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.

  54. 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.

  55. 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.

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

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

  57. 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.

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

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

  59. 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

  60. 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!

  61. 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 Jeffgrotte@gmail.com Thank you!

  62. 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!

  63. 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.

  64. 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!)

  65. 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.

  66. 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.

  67. 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.

  68. 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.

  69. 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!

  70. 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

  71. 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

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

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

  73. 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.

  74. 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!

  75. 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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