Problematic bird ID

I had a client bring this bird in because they worried it was a lost budgie. My closest guess is that it is some weird color morph corvid. It has the shape of a Scrub Jay, but it is slightly smaller and its eyes are red.
Any ideas?
Also, I’m in Western Washington state.

I could be wrong but it looks like a canary to me. They come in many various colors.

Or a finch? The pet stores here sell many different sizes and colors.

It does to me too, especially when compared to this photo, which according to the website is a White Song Canary.


Those are truly terrible photos. One is out of focus, and in the other we can’t see the shape of the bird’s beak and head because it is facing an odd angle, and the head is half hidden behind a bell anyway. In neither can we see the eyes.

With those major restrictions on an accurate ID, I say that you should go with your gut feeling. If you think it looks like a Scrub Jay then it probably *is *a Scrub Jay.

The red eyes, reduced size and unusual colouring area all perfectly consistent with the bird being amelanistic. This is a condition slightly different form, but related to, albinism, where the bird fails to produce one of the several types of melanin pigment. Unlike true albinos, amelanistic animals do produce some forms of melanin, and thus are not solid white.
I tried looking for an image of an amelanistic Blue Jay, but the closest I could find was thisimage of an amelanistic Blue Jay. Not how only those feathers that are deep black in a normal bird have retained any pigmentation at all? Note also that what are narrow black bands in a normally pigmented animal become broad black bands in the amelanistic form? In the case of the Bue Jay, compare the thickness of the black bands fringing the collar with the width of the bands in a normally pigmented animal.

Now compare the colouration in your animal with that of a normal scrub jay. there is the same dark saddle across the shoulders trialing to a cape along the back, the same dark strip running back from the eye.

I repeat, your photos are horrible for ID purposes. The fact that you think it looks like a scrub jay, combined with its pale colour and red eyes, leads me to think that it *is *a scrub jay.

In fact that would have been my guess just from a description without any photos. While some species of birds do have red eyes, when somebody comes to me describing a pale coloured bird with red eyes that they have never seen before, the smart money is to automatically assume amelanism. It automatically explains everything: the colouration, the red eyes, the fact that it’s novel. Amelanism is common enough to account for a lot of novel description while remaining rare enough that most city folk have never seen it.

When the person then tells me that it looks and behaves much like common species X, but is smaller an/or less aggressive/flighty, then it is almost certainly amelanism. Melanin is chemically related to a lot a lot of animal hormones, including adrenalin, and it is both synergistic and agonostic with testosterone. So animals with malfunctions in melanin production are also commonly smaller and more docile than normal and often retain juvenile traits.

So unless you have some reason to believe it isn’t a Scrub Jay, then apply the duck test. Note also that amelanistic animals often have short lifespans in the wild, for obvious reasons.

The only thing I’m going to say is that it is NOT a budgie.

Thanks for the input, Blake. Sorry the photos are bad but the bird was decidedly unhappy about being in a cage and we were not about to let him out yet.
In talking with some other folks I know, the current best guess is a Spotted Towhee with scrub jay now a close second. To clarify, the red eyes of my mystery bird appear to be native coloration as opposed to lack of pigment, like the towhee or the Spangled Drongo you linked to. The finders also described the bird foraging in a manner similar to the towhees and hanging around some other birds who fit the color pattern for towhees, although the mystery bird is slightly larger. Is it possible for amelanism to make the animal slightly larger instead of smaller?

At any rate, the consensus seems to be that we are dealing with a native species instead of a lost pet bird and we should probably put him back where we found him.

He might be a hybrid of a towhee and a related species, if you have such nearby, which could account for both unusual coloring and unusual size.

Blake, is amelanistic the same as leucistic? does not have an entry for amelanistic.

I’m not seeing it. The Towhee has an almost completely black dorsal surface and a solid black head and neck. The bird you have appears to be a uniform white except for the grey cape and eye stripe.

Unless you are thinking it may be an amelanisitic towhee, but in that case, why a towhee? The colouration seems much more similar to that of the oriole also pictured on that page, or to a white crowned sparrow. Why not one of those birds or several other possibilities?

Amelanism can reveal some surprising underlying colour patterns, such as the fact that grizzly bears retain the spectacles of most other bears. But usually the pattern at least roughly maps to normal colouration. So I would be looking for a bird with a dark eye stripe and a cape, rather than something like the towhee which has solid head and dorsal colouration.

Not that I have ever heard of, but this is outside my normal field of expertise and it wouldn’t surprise me in the least. As noted, malfunctioning melanin production pays hob with lots of hormone systems.

If it is amelanistic, that may not be the best choice for the bird’s welfare. The fact that he was captured, presumably fairly easily, suggests that he may already be stressed or lacking natural fear responses.

Amelanism, leucism and albinism are all related conditions resulting in reduced pigmentation, but they are all different terms referring to slightly different things. I used to know what, but I’ve forgotten. Something to the effect that albinism is a genetic lack of melanin, amelanism is a genetic melanin defect and leucism is a congenital, though not necessrily genetic, melanin defect. So an animal can be leucistic and albino but not necessarily amelanistic, or it can be all three or it may be just leucistic.

Or something.

Because the towhee was the first bird someone suggested that mostly fit. I had no idea towhees existed prior to that. I hadn’t considered any orioles because I thought they were all east coast birds. And it seems that most of them are. But, now that you point it out, the Bullock’s Oriole might also be a fit for this bird.

IMHO, the white crown sparrow is the wrong body shape/stance to the mystery bird, though I can understand how that might not come across in the photos. If you are really insistent on better pics, I can ask the finders to bring the bird back to the clinic and I can try to video it.

Wild bird ID is by far not my area of interest. I prefer the edible kinds of birds. That’s why I was reaching out to people who know more. I welcome any more species suggestions, but I’m getting a strong feeling of hostility from your posts. If my ignorance has offended you, I apologize. I appreciate the help of people who know more than me.

My understanding was that it is illegal for people to keep native species, that this runs the risk of depleting the wild populations. Am I incorrect?

In this case, the bird was captured after he stunned himself on a window. From what I saw of him, he is hearty at the moment. His long-term survival may be shorter, but if we are legally bound to release him, then I don’t know what else we can do.

Sorry, can’t help with the ID, but I do have a suggestion… can you take the bird to a local wildlife rehabilitator? They can likely tell you the species, and, if indeed it is an odd colouration, can help decide a course of action. My local rehab center has an albino crow which has been manned for handling during education programs, to act as an ambassador for his species.