A Leucistic Ruby-throated Hummingbird in Oakville
Earlier this year, during spring migration, Bob and I set off to investigate Shell Park along Lakeshore Road West in Oakville, Ontario. Our short visit there was rewarded when we spotted an unusual hummingbird, a Leucistic Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
Bob and I arrived in the parking lot right about noon, so we sat with our windows rolled down and ate our packed lunch while looking out over the fresh green grass and newly-planted gardens. We had been given suggestions by a fellow birdwatcher at Paletta Park as to the best place to look for migrating birds at Shell Park.
We struck off on foot following the main road towards the soccer fields until we came to a deadend that served as a parking lot for a nearby community garden. Along a narrow dirt path that bordered the plot is where we spotted the hummingbird as it basked in the noon-day sun on a weathered wooden post.
Truth be known, neither Bob nor I recognized the hummingbird as any we had seen before and had to seek input from more experienced birders. Given the time of year and limited number of hummingbird species that breed in Ontario, it was determined to be a Leucistic or Piebald Ruby-throated Hummingbird.
A normal looking Ruby-throated Hummingbird would have a bright emerald green or golden green back and crown with greyish-white underparts. The male is most striking with a vibrant iridescent ruby-coloured throat that literally gleams when well lit.
To be classified as piebald, which is a leucistic abnormality, means that a genetic mutation has caused pigment to be improperly distributed on a bird’s feathers. This very rare condition is similar to albinism, but unlike that condition that only affects the melanin, leucism represents a reduction in all of the skin pigments that give a creature its colour.
Leucistic Ruby-throated Hummingbirds still have the characteristic black feet, bill and eyes as normal members of the species, and even though their plumage ranges in colour from white to buff, tan or grey, this anomaly does not affect the bird’s survival or performance. They are rare but more common than albino Ruby-throated Hummingbirds so we were indeed very lucky to come across this little bird. After a few short minutes, it flew into the mid-canopy of a nearby deciduous tree, and we continued along the forest trail.
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