An Oddly Colored Goldfinch

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An oddly colored leucistic female American Goldfinch on a feeder with two male goldfinches.
An Oddly Colored Goldfinch

The other day an oddly colored American Goldfinch showed up at my feeders. It looked just like a female American Goldfinch in breeding plumage except the black in her wings was very faded. She seems to be a leucistic goldfinch with “dilute plumage.”

Identifying this Oddly Colored American Goldfinch

I only saw this oddly colored bird once and took the photo through a window, so please excuse the picture quality. Even so, you can see that her shape and general appearance fit a female American Goldfinch in breeding plumage.

She is mostly olive yellow. Look carefully, and you can even see white wing bars. But where her wing feathers would normally be black, they are a faded brownish gray color. Unlike an albino bird, her eyes and beak are the normal goldfinch colors. So she isn’t an albino. She is leucitic, a bird with a genetic condition that blocks pigment to feathers.

Leucistic Bird Color Variations

Leucism affects a wide range of bird species and affects each bird differently. So you are likely to see various colorations among these birds. For example, some leucitic birds have odd white patches that only affect some feathers and not others, giving them a “piebald” look. Some are completely lacking a particular color. Others, like this bird, have feathers that look faded with “dilute plumage.”

These odd color variations can sometimes make bird identification tricky. But in this case, it wasn’t particularly hard. She was hanging out with other goldfinches which is a big clue. Her general look, size, shape, location and behavior says goldfinch. And you can still mostly see female goldfinch color patterns. It’s just that some of them are faded.

Oddly colored Leucistic birds are interesting and a little out of the ordinary. But the missing pigment can cause problems for the bird, including weaker feathers, being more visible to predators and possibly making it harder to find a breeding partner. So this is a case when being different comes with some possible down sides.

Learn More About Oddly Colored Birds

Bird genetics is a bit over my head so I’m not going to pretend I understand the science behind this. Here are some interesting (and easy to read) articles on oddly colored birds, leucism and other color abnormalities in birds if you would like to read more about it:

Sibley Guides: Abnormal Coloration in Birds: Melanin Reduction

Audubon Podcast: Why Is This Bird Half-White?

Cornell Lab Bird Academy: Bird Plumage Variations and Abnormalities

All About Birds: What Can Cause Birds To Show Weird Color Variations?

Avian Report: Bird Leucism

Learn More About American Goldfinches

All About Birds: American Goldfinch

Audubon: American Goldfinch

Birdseed & Binoculars: Attracting American Goldfinches

Birdseed & Binoculars: Goldfinches of Fall

Have you seen any leucistic birds in your yard or when you’ve been out birding? How did you identify them?

Nancie

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