Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ghost Bird Returns

Ghost bird with a female House Sparrow
The leucistic pale "ghost bird" from last post has now become a regular at my bird feeders.  I watched and waited for days with no sign of it. I had nearly concluded it had been caught by a predator when finally on Saturday morning it reappeared.  I dashed for my camera, only to remember I had just lent it to my husband for the day. Arrgh! In desperation I snapped a few shots with my cell phone.  All you can make out in those are bird-shaped blobs, however.  Luckily, the bird returned several times that day and every day since. It is even at the feeders as I type this.

Perched in the locust tree, waiting for space at the feeder.

I must have taken hundreds of photos of it by now-- from various angles, in differing light conditions and with other birds in the same shot for comparison.  I still think it's a House Finch, but I'm not 100% sure.  It has very few field marks I can make out. 

A ventral view (the aluminum tube is a home made squirrel baffle).

The bird's beak is pink, plumage is almost all white with a light tan wash in places, eyes are dark, legs are dark gray and the toes are pink. I think I can make out faint barring on the belly, which makes me believe it's a House Finch.  It also associates with the large flock of House Finches at my feeder, matches the outline of House Finches I've seen at the feeder simultaneously, and I think I heard it give the same scolding call that other House Finches give when bickering.  That last is hard to be sure of though, since there are so many birds nearby most of the time.

Ghost bird and male House Finch

Ghost bird with Cardinal and female House Finches

Ghost bird with male House Sparrow

A dorsal view, with female House Finches nearby.

Looking somewhat ruffled
I would be very interested to hear other theories on the ghost bird's actual species.  Let me know in the comments what you think!

Today's location: my front yard, Montgomery County, MD.


  1. Wow, I've never seen a bird like that. My guess would be house finch, especially since you say it hangs out with their flock a lot. It doesn't look quite plump enough to be a house sparrow. I wonder if there are any organizations that might be interested in your sighting, like Cornell Lab, whenever I've done bird counts they like to know how many house finches I see have the eye disease. They may be interested in this too.

  2. Hi Julie, thanks for your feedback. I reported the finch to the Audubon Naturalist Society, for their Voice of the Naturalist, a weekly bird sightings summary for the MD/DC/VA/DE/WV panhandle area. I also made sure to note it on Ebird. As far as I can tell, though, Cornell Lab only wants special leucism reports if they occur during Feeder Watch or other similar projects.

    If anybody knows of other organizations that collect data on leucistic individuals, though, let me know!


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