We’re all used to seeing the familiar dark silhouette of a crow, with its jet-black feathers, eyes, legs and bill. But unlikely as it may seem, white crows do occasionally occur. Such unusual corvids are caused by the genetic mutation known as albinism, where there is a complete absence of the color pigment melanin in their feathers and skin.
Albino crows are exceptionally rare, and many do not survive into adulthood in the wild, due to prevailing health issues linked to their coloring and genetic mutations. Individuals that are spotted struggling in the wild may be transferred to the care of a wildlife rehabilitation center, where they benefit from the absence of many pressures that may threaten their survival due to their unusual appearance and genetic make-up.
Albinism in birds results from a total lack of melanin in their feathers and all of their soft body tissues and skin, resulting in red eyes, a whitish-pink bill and pink legs. Such mutations are incredibly rare, with only one in every 30,000 crows that hatch affected, and an even lower number surviving beyond the fledgling stage.
Slightly less uncommon, however, is the presence of some white feathers in a crow’s plumage. A condition known as leucism causes this, but the soft tissues and body parts are unaffected. Leucism can affect just a small number of feathers or the bird’s entire plumage, but their eyes, legs and bill will be the usual dark color of a regular crow.
Sometimes known as ‘partial albinism’ this isn’t really an accurate description, as a bird is either fully albino or not, depending on its genetics.
An Albino Crow - Albinism in birds results from a total lack of melanin in their feathers and all of their soft body tissues and skin, resulting in red eyes, a whitish-pink bill and pink legs
While leucism is also partly influenced by genetics, patches of white feathers within a bird’s plumage may also be caused by dietary factors. Diets lacking in meat and protein may result in unusual white areas of feathers developing from birth.
Crows and Jackdaws with some irregular white coloring on their wings, flanks or tails are not particularly unusual and are noted to be increasing in urban areas in recent times.
Albinism can only be present in a bird when the recessive albino gene is passed down by both parents. When a pair of these genes combine, a mutation occurs that causes the absence of the enzyme tyrosinase, needed to create the color pigmentation in the bird’s body.
The lack of this enzyme means no melanin can be produced, and the bird’s feathers, eyes, legs and bill will all be colorless and therefore white in appearance.
Leucistic Jackdaw - Crows and Jackdaws with some irregular white coloring on their wings, flanks or tails are not particularly unusual
Albino crows have a full set of white feathers, which lack any melanin pigmentation. This results in the feathers not only looking different to those of regular crows but also being weaker in structure and more likely to become damaged and break easily. Damaged feathers inhibit a bird’s ability to fly, leaving many albino crows unable to undertake strong or sustained flight.
The eyes of true albino crows are reddish pink and have no coloring in their irises. Fully white leucistic crows can be told apart from albinos by looking at their eyes, which are colored or black, rather than pink.
True albino crows have pink feet and bills, as their skin and soft body tissue also lack any melanin. White crows with darker bills or black legs are not true albinos and are classed as leucistic instead.
Albinism in birds is often associated with weak eyesight and poor depth of field vision caused by the lack of pigmentation in their irises. Related sight issues are common, with defective blood vessels causing damage to the optic nerve and retina.
Lack of melanin is also a factor in the strength and durability of feathers, which can result in poor flight and inability to escape predators or other dangers effectively. Albino crows are also anecdotally observed to be particularly hyperactive, a behavioral trait that is noted to set them apart from their black flockmates.
An Albino Crow - True Albino Crows have pink feet and bills, as their skin and soft body tissue also lack any melanin
Albino crows are not found in any particularly notable concentrations around the world and may occur within any typical corvid populations.
Individual albino birds may be born anywhere that a breeding pair with recessive genes are present, and as this is a genetic mutation rather than influenced by environmental or geographical factors, there is no predicting where they will be spotted. Individuals have been recorded in the past in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Canada, Estonia and Germany.
The coloration of albino crows makes them more vulnerable to predation in their natural habitats as their white plumage may blend in less easily and offer less effective camouflage.
On its own, having white feathers does not automatically make a bird an easy target for predation, for example, gulls, terns and doves. However, a single white individual among a flock of black birds would naturally be easier to pick out by any opportunistic predator.
While sounding the same as other crows, albino birds may be ignored or bullied by their fellow species and isolated on foraging grounds due to their abnormal appearance. Leucistic crows will usually not face such ostracization as they are usually not completely white and look
Albino Hooded Crow - Individual albino birds may be born anywhere that a breeding pair with recessive genes are present
The saying ‘birds of a feather flock together’ is particularly true when it comes to the integration of albino crows into larger groups.
Albino crows are observed to be shunned or bullied by their fellow corvids and isolated, left to forage on the outer edges rather than being at the heart of the flock. Pure white birds stand out against the uniform black of a large group, which leaves them vulnerable to catching the eye of a predator, which in turn puts other nearby birds at risk.
The same is not true for leucistic crows or those with smaller patches of white feathers. These are not treated with any distinction from their fellow fully black flockmates.
It’s not usual for albino crows to live long lives, as their coloring and associated health risks of poor eyesight and weakened feathers put them at risk of predation. Many do not reach breeding age, meaning their recessive albino gene is not usually passed on to future generations.
Despite the stark differences in appearance between albino crows and crows with a regular, black plumage, vocally the two cannot be told apart.
Albino crow sightings are so unusual that sightings are shared online with much excitement, with images and video footage attracting a large amount of interest. In 2023, a fledgling albino Fish Crow was discovered in Connecticut, experiencing difficulties flying and vision problems, and was taken to a wildlife rehab center.
From a distance, it’s often hard to tell whether an unusually white crow-shaped bird is an albino or leucistic crow, or whether it might be a jackdaw or raven with similar pigmentation issues. One such example was recorded several times across North Wales in 2022 with identification not fully determined. Some experts believe it was a leucistic crow, as photographs show that despite a fully white plumage, its eyes were dark rather than red.
A leucistic Jackdaw - From a distance, it’s often hard to tell whether an unusually white crow-shaped bird is an albino or leucistic crow, or whether it might be a jackdaw or raven with similar pigmentation issues
In some cultures, regardless of color, a crow is considered a negative omen and a messenger of impending doom or misfortune. However, in parts of the southern United States, albino crows have more positive symbolism, representing purification and honesty and a true and genuine blessing.
Non-intrusive still photography and video footage of albino crows are a prized coup for any bird enthusiast. When photographing any bird, it’s vital not to encroach on their habitat or cause any distress or alarm.
Focused photos from a safe and respectful distance, especially those taken in natural light around sunrise and sunset are particularly effective for clear images and will offer the best chances of a positive identification of your unusual sighting.
Due to their extremely rare status, albino crows are at risk of being captured by illegal pet traders or hunted for as an unusual trophy.
The life expectancy of albino crows is lower than that of a ‘normal’ crow, due to health issues and increased challenges to survival in the wild, so it’s a wise idea to share any sightings with a registered wildlife organization so they can monitor and decide if intervention is necessary for the bird’s safety.
Bird breeders may be tempted to attempt to selectively breed albino birds due to their strikingly unusual appearance, although this comes with a number of ethical concerns due to the high level of associated health risks and genetic weaknesses.
True albino crows, with fully white plumage, red eyes and whitish-pink legs and beaks, are an extremely rare phenomenon, with no available information on the exact number of individuals affected by the genetic condition worldwide. All we know is that such birds are uncommon enough to be greeted with intense levels of intrigue whenever a sighting is reported.
Crows with patches of white feathers among the usual black are less of a novelty, with around 1 percent of all crows featuring anything from a few white flight feathers to an almost entire snowy white plumage, contrasting with the deep black normally associated with these imposing corvids.
Born with a condition known as leucism, these partially white birds are less seriously affected and survival alongside their black flockmates is not as challenging.
True Albino Crows, with fully white plumage, red eyes and whitish-pink legs and beaks, are an extremely rare phenomenon
The best thing to do if you’re lucky enough to spot an albino crow is to simply observe it from a distance and enjoy one of nature’s rare marvels.
If it’s safe to do so, and doesn’t cause any disturbance to the bird, taking photos or video footage is a good way of documenting your sighting, and it may be worth sharing with local birdwatching groups or wildlife organizations, as such individuals are highly uncommon.
If a crow is a true albino, not only will it have pure white feathers, but its eyes will be red, and its bill and legs will be whitish-pink. In size and shape, it is no different from other, regular black crows, and its behavior matches that of other corvids.
Albino crows can be told apart from leucistic crows, by looking at their eye and leg color, as birds that are not true albinos will have black legs and dark eyes, even if there is white coloring on some or all of their feathers.
Around one crow in every 30,000 is a true albino, with around 1 percent of all crows displaying some lesser degree of leucism. Although there is no estimate of the number of albino crows in the wild, seeing one would definitely be classed as an extremely rare sighting.
Albinism is a complex genetic condition, caused by a recessive gene. If both parents carry the recessive gene, there is a chance that offspring may also be albino, but it is not guaranteed, and albino parents will commonly produce young with normal pigmentation.
It’s worth mentioning that due to their coloring and associated health conditions, not many fully albino crows survive into adulthood.
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