White doves are a long-standing symbol of peace and freedom and although we are more accustomed to seeing pigeons in various shades of gray, rare, pure white albino pigeons are occasionally spotted. These can be told apart from other white doves and pigeons, as they have telltale red eyes, and pinkish legs, feet and bills.
Read on to learn more about these highly unusual birds and why they are not particularly well-equipped for survival in the wild.
Albinism is caused by a recessive gene that must be present in both parents for the condition to surface. Together, these genes cause a mutation that leads to the absence of an enzyme called tyrosinase which is vital for producing melanin, the natural pigment that gives feathers and skin their color.
Two non-albino pigeons that carry this recessive gene can have albino offspring without displaying any lack of pigmentation themselves.
White pigeons are not entirely uncommon, but they are not all albino and a close look will quickly help you to determine whether they are in fact truly albino or have a condition known as leucism, where pigmentation is missing from their feathers, but their eyes, skin and bill are unaffected.
Leucistic pigeons may be fully or partially white or considerably paler than other pigeons, but their bare parts are the normal color.
Piebald pigeons are mottled with different degrees of black-and-white coloring, again caused by a complex genetic mutation that leads to the absence of pigmentation only in specific areas of their plumage.
True albino pigeons have a number of key physical features that help to distinguish them from other white pigeons.
As well as white feathers and feather shafts, the skin and soft body parts of an albino pigeon will also be lacking any coloration, resulting in pinkish-red eyes, pink feet and a pink bill. Their feathers have no markings and are generally weaker and more easily damaged than those of a pigeon with more usual coloring.
The color of their eyes, bills and feet is only one way to tell albino pigeons apart from white doves. Looking at the bird’s tail shape is another useful way of identifying whether the pure white bird you’re looking at is a dove or a much rarer albino pigeon – a pointed tail would suggest the former, while a fan-shaped tail is a sign of a pigeon.
Leucistic pigeons may be fully or partially white or considerably paler than other pigeons
Piebald pigeons are mottled with different degrees of black-and-white coloring
Pigeons are generally non-migratory and adapt to a number of different habitats around the world. Found on every continent except for Antarctica, they are able to survive well in urban areas, where they readily live alongside humans in cities, parks, and residential areas. In rural settings, they can be found on farmland, cliffs, around caves and on both open landscapes and rocky terrain.
Albino pigeons are at a disadvantage as their stand-out white plumage makes it more of a challenge to blend in unnoticed to their surroundings.
There’s no difference in the natural diet of albino pigeons compared to those with more typical coloring. All will forage for grains, beans, peas, leafy greens, berries, weeds and occasionally insects and other small invertebrates.
Pigeons are social birds and are seen roosting and foraging in large flocks, with birds of all colors and plumage patterns intermixing.
If an albino pigeon survives long enough to breed, it will not necessarily mate with another albino bird. Standard colored pigeons will mate with albino birds without any distinction, and it does not seem that any ostracization based on their plumage color occurs, as pigeons exist in such a diverse range of shades and patterns.
Albino pigeons that do reach breeding age choose nesting sites that offer the best cover, offering the greatest chance of survival for themselves and their offspring. Cliff ledges, dense foliage and concealed cavities within buildings, rooftops or bridges offer shelter in less visible spots.
Young albino nestlings are initially indistinguishable from normal-colored squabs, but their differences in appearance and development later become apparent and they may take longer to fledge due to their weaker feathers.
Pigeons are social birds and are seen roosting and foraging in large flocks, with birds of all colors and plumage patterns intermixing
It’s impossible to estimate the number of albino pigeons in the wild, but research on albinism in birds, in general, would suggest that around 1 percent of all pigeons feature some degree of pigmentation loss, with leucistic birds being significantly more common than true albinos.
Individual albino pigeons can occur within all natural pigeon populations, although instances are infrequent and unusual, with many birds born with this trait failing to thrive beyond the fledgling stage due to increased risk of predation and poor health. In captivity, albino pigeons may be selectively bred and successfully raised.
White pigeons, in general, are recognized as a symbol of peace and hope around the world, associated with love, respect, tranquility and renewal. While these values are not specific to albino pigeons, they do explain the allure and mystery linked to these graceful and extremely rare bird variations.
The biblical reference to white doves represents peace and sacrifice, and albino pigeons share the same symbolism of prosperity, purity and contentment.
Albino pigeons are affected by a number of health risks linked to the lack of melanin in their bodies. Poor eyesight is a major issue, and their eyes are susceptible to damage when exposed to bright lights. It can also affect their ability to find food effectively.
Another common health concern in albino pigeons is weakened feathers. The lack of melanin in their feathers, feather shafts and skin means that feathers are easily broken and not capable of long-distance or strong flight. This can put them in danger of being targeted by predators as they are unable to escape threats as easily as other pigeons.
In the wild, the lifespan of an albino pigeon is shorter than that of a pigeon with standard coloring, with around 5 years being the maximum expected age compared to 15 years for non-albinos. Many do die prematurely and do not survive long enough to breed. In captivity, an albino individual was recorded to reach 33 years of age, when cared for in a protected environment.
A leucistic Pigeon - Research on albinism in birds, in general, would suggest that around 1 percent of all pigeons feature some degree of pigmentation loss, with leucistic birds being significantly more common than true albinos
Albino pigeons are naturally less robust at surviving in the wild due to their health issues and predation risks due to their coloring, which makes them stand out as easy targets for predatory birds and mammals. Many albino pigeons are bred or kept in captivity, where they are protected from these environmental factors.
Due to their extremely rare status, albino pigeons are often highly prized by breeders. Celebratory releases, which rely on using white pigeons and doves, but not necessarily albino birds, have been called into question by some, as when selectively bred white birds are used, they may lack the natural homing instinct of homing pigeons, and may be vulnerable to predation when released.
Much joy can come from spotting rare and unusual birds or birds that have particularly abnormal plumage. Even birds such as pigeons which we may take for granted due to the sheer number in the world around us certainly take on a greater fascination when a sighting of an albino is involved.
Albino pigeons are highly unusual and while sightings in the wild are pretty remarkable, these very special birds should be treated with respect and not disturbed or stressed or approached too closely.
If you do spot one in the wild, it’s a good idea to take a photograph from a safe distance, and perhaps contact a local bird group or wildlife rehab center so they can advise if a rescue is necessary.
Albino pigeons are highly unusual and while sightings in the wild are pretty remarkable, these very special birds should be treated with respect and not disturbed or stressed or approached too closely
Only around 1 percent of all pigeons are affected by the condition of albinism, making them especially rare and noteworthy sightings.
Albino pigeons are usually unable to survive well in the wild, and it is worth seeking the advice of a bird rescue center. Their weak feathers and poor eyesight make them prone to predation, and their best chance of survival may be at a wildlife rehabilitation center or a protected specialist environment.
In the wild, most albino pigeons do not survive into adulthood and are not guaranteed to reach breeding age. In theory, albino pigeons will freely mate with non-albino pigeons and can have non-albino offspring unless their mate also carries the recessive albinism gene.
Albino pigeons are found wherever pigeon populations exist - so every continent except for Antarctica. However, pure albino individuals are highly uncommon and there are no particular ‘hotspots’ where larger concentrations of pure white pigeons with red eyes and pale pink bills and feet are found or where sightings are guaranteed.
Albino pigeons and white doves may look similar from a distance but are two distinct species. Pigeons are typically larger and can be told apart from white doves, by their eye color. Albino pigeons have red eyes, while those of white doves are black.
Brighten up your inbox with our exclusive newsletter, enjoyed by thousands of people from around the world.