Partially Leucistic Black-billed Magpie

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Partially Leucistic Black-billed MagpiePartially Leucistic Black-billed Magpie

Last week I photographed some Black-billed Magpies on Antelope Island State Park and one of them was partially leucistic which means it was showing white feathers where they should have been a different color, in this case the feathers should have been black. When the magpie landed on a budding greasewood bush two white secondaries were exposed on the underside of the bird’s right wing sandwiched in between normal colored feathers.

Black-billed Magpie with wings spreadBlack-billed Magpie with wings spread

This image shows the underside of a normal Black-billed Magpie. Note that where the partially leucistic has the two white feathers this bird has black feathers.

From Wikipedia:

Leucism (occasionally spelled leukism) is a general term for the phenotype resulting from defects in pigment cell differentiation and/or migration from the neural crest to skin, hair, or feathers during development. This results in either the entire surface (if all pigment cells fail to develop) or patches of body surface (if only a subset are defective) having a lack of cells capable of making pigment.

Partially Leucistic Black-billed Magpie in flightPartially Leucistic Black-billed Magpie in flight

This image shows the partially leucistic magpie lifting off and shows that the lack of pigmentation of those two secondary feathers from a dorsal view. This magpie may have additional feathers on it’s left wing lacking pigmentation because I can see a white feather behind the bird’s dangling feet but I don’t have any clear images of the bird’s left side to be sure if it has more than one white feather on that side.

Black-billed Magpie taking offBlack-billed Magpie taking off

This image shows a dorsal view of a normal colored Black-billed Magpie.

You could say that the partially leucistic Black-billed Magpie is “pied” or has a “piebald” effect. And who knows, if this partially leucistic Black-billed Magpie has a successful nesting season we might be seeing more partially leucistic Black-billed Magpies on the island.

Life is good.




  1. Lois March 22, 2015 at 6:43 am

    oh wonderful, wonderful captures … how I love the spread of those lovely wings!!

  2. Jane Chesebrough March 20, 2015 at 11:53 pm

    Most interesting…

  3. Stu March 20, 2015 at 7:35 pm

    I have noticed several doves of mine have a couple of white tail feathers instead of the normal sand/grey color. I thought it was just one last year but since I have seen 3 or 4 of them having this issue. Not sure if it is a leucistic thing. Interesting. and as always. great photography Mia.

  4. Scott Simmons March 20, 2015 at 3:40 pm

    Wonderful! I haven’t seen a magpie since I was a kid. They’re such lovely birds.

  5. Elephant's Child March 20, 2015 at 2:22 pm

    How fascinating. And, as Patty says, it will make positively identifying this bird easier – unless and until it passes those genes on.

  6. Wally March 20, 2015 at 9:59 am

    Terrific captures of a fairly uncommon trait! Interesting that the undersides were black. Wonder if molting will result in “normal” plumage?

    Wonderful quality photos of the difficult black and white contrasts.

    Hope you’re doing well, Mia! Happy First Day of Spring!

  7. Patty Chadwick March 20, 2015 at 8:57 am

    Interesting variant…should make identifying and keeping track of this particular bird a lot easier…will be interesting to know if you see the same bird in the future…

  8. Bob Bushell March 20, 2015 at 5:55 am

    Great moment Mia.

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