It started out innocently enough. I needed a column topic and there was a neat bird in the yard. Done deal right?
It actually became one the Cowichan Valley Citizen’s most popular stories of the year.
A quick email to the National Audubon Society confirmed the white bird was not just neat, it was really rare too.
That’s how the story of Lucy, the leucistic Anna’s hummingbird began.
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Kenn Kaufman, Audubon’s field editor said he didn’t think it was a true albino, because it didn’t quite have pure white feathers or the standard pink eyes, feet and bill.
“The bird in the photos looks like it’s a leucistic individual instead — lacking most, but not all, of the melanin pigment in the feathers,” Kaufman noted.
It didn’t make the discovery (in as much as we discovered the bird at our backyard feeder, not discovered a whole new species or anything…) any less cool.
Leucistic hummingbirds are super rare! One in a million, in fact.
“White hummingbirds are so stunning that when one is seen, it usually makes the news,” Kaufman said. “So we know that a very few white hummingbirds are reported practically every year, somewhere in North America. But I would guess that they make up only about one in a million individuals among the hummingbird population at large.”
We named it Lucy. It could well be male, but it’s still Lucy until we know for sure what gender (s)he is.
I naively thought I was just writing about our curiously coloured backyard bird for my regular Friday column and figured, like most of the stuff I write, maybe a handful of people would care.
But then came the emails and phone calls. The story got pushed to other papers around the Island and province. People wanted my address so they could come over and have a look. Folks started telling me their bird stories. And I got contacted by a hummingbird aficionado named Eric Pittman.
He runs the Hummingbirds Up Close website and Facebook pages and has worked for BBC Wildlife films and ITV Wildlife films in the U.K. The Esquimalt resident is known around these parts for having a backyard hummingbird nest camera and is a pro at locating hummingbirds and their nests. He wanted to make a video about Lucy.
Through one of my stories, he’s since found another cool leucistic bird in the Greater Victoria area, closer to where he lives — one with a bit of an orange tinge — and may have abandoned ours in favour of that one as it doesn’t take an hour to drive to.
“I was rewarded with someone calling me about another white hummingbird because she saw your article,” Pittman told me. “This one is in Victoria and is quite a different leucistic style then Lucy. I call her Tangerine because she has light orange feathers where it should be green. I have been able to get some very nice footage of her so I have been concentrating my field trips around her. I haven’t seen her for a week or two though. But how great to have been given another opportunity.”
Lucy never asked to be famous anyway. and we still love her (him) just the same, greeting it every morning when we open the blinds and see it perched on a branch of the now leafless willow in our neighbour’s yard.
It’s not an earth shattering story, but it’s a piece of happy news during a year with so much miserable and tragic and scary and horrible and awful and and and and…plain bad news.