March 12, 2013

White-winged robin a less common sign of spring

How does that old song go?

Correction: An earlier version of this story and headline referred to the robin as being albino. It was leucistic.

How does that old song go?

“When the red, red robin goes bob, bob, bobbin’ along.”

At least one Wichita robin didn’t hear the song.

The bird turned up last week with cream-colored to white wings and an orange breast. It was seen mingling with several other robins.

“I looked out my front door and went, ‘Thumbs up, spring’s here,’ ” said Wichitan John Callison.

Then he saw the pale robin.

“At first I thought it was injured because it stood out,” Callison said. “All its wings were white.”

But the white-winged robin was uninjured.

It flitted around Callison’s yard in the 1200 block of South Waco for only a few minutes. Callison, a photographer, grabbed his camera as the day’s sunlight was quickly retreating.

He photographed the bird last Wednesday. He has not seen it since.

According to Bob Gress, naturalist and past director of the Great Plains Nature Center, it isn’t unusual to occasionally see an albino robin.

“About 20 years ago, I heard reports of three different albino robins in Wichita,” Gress said. “In recent years, I get reports every other year – and that’s just the people who would call me.

“In the big population of robins, an albino robin is unusual – a very, very rare occurrence. But because we watch so many robins in a city the size of Wichita, we’ll get reports.”

Chances are Callison’s robin will stick around, Gress said. He has heard stories where they return to the same neighborhood three or four years in a row to raise young.

“They seem to survive as well as other robins,” he said.

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