Discovering Nature

Leucistic Red-tail

We’ve seen this large, snowy white raptor several times nearby since around November.


Naturally, I’ve thought it was a snowy owl. Last year snowies were on everyone’s radar because it was an irruption year, and I figured this might be one of the surplus young who were born in the year of plentiful lemmings.

We saw it about a week ago being mobbed by crows, and it was so large, and so white, I thought again: snowy owl! But…

Yesterday it was sitting in and near an old red-tailed hawk’s nest, vocalizing like crazy, and I got a couple of better (or at least, closer!) pictures.



Clearly not a snowy owl!

I noticed several things. It was not an owl call; it was the classic red-tail’s scream. (Another hawk answered from farther away!) It didn’t have yellow eyes. It didn’t have feathered feet. And it just didn’t have the blunt owl body.

Could there be such a thing as an albino red-tail? Searching online, I discovered there could — though the word in this case is not albino, but leucistic — partially albino. The eyes, after all, are not red. And there are some dark accents in the feathers.

We were tickled to have a snowy owl, but we’re even more tickled to have a rare hawk. At first I was sad, thinking its chances of survival would be poor without the protective coloration. But it’s already survived the winter, so its survival skills are pretty good. There aren’t that many predators to worry about. And a dense leaf canopy would hide it well enough from prey below.

As for being chased by its own kind as an enemy, well — it surely did seem to be conversing with that second hawk, and perhaps readying the nest for breeding season. So we’ll see. There is at least this picture online of a leucistic red-tail on friendly terms with a more typical one, so I have hope.

My daughter named it Marley, after the ghost in A Christmas Carol.


Categories: Birds

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  1. I like very much your blog. It shows how much you and your daughters observe and enjoy nature. It is also very good to give links and information about your observations.
    I homeschooled my children and learned a lot about canadian nature while they were growing up. I come from the tropics and for me that process of staying at home with my children taught me a great deal not only about the place I was enjoying but about myself. They taught me even not to be shy about speaking English! Your blog is a way to do journals and learn with the children and you will see how rewarding that activity is because our children learn a lot by example. Keep the good work and enjoy these marvellous years…they go very fast.

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