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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

An Odd Robin in Brooklyn

Back in June of 2008 I posted about an American Robin in Prospect Park with a pigment problem called "leucism". Despite his differences, this bird appears to be quite the survivor.

Leucism is a complex of conditions that I don't completely understand, but here, in a nutshell, is how it is described in 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.

I had all but forgotten about the American Robin in Prospect Park with the odd, white feathers, when I ran into birder Simon Bronstein. He and his wife frequently bird in Brooklyn's Prospect Park and he described seeing a robin with very unusual markings in December. I asked him to send me the photos. I assumed that it would be a leucistic robin, but was pleasantly surprised when I recognized the bird. Here is Simon's photo:

Here is the photo I took of a leucistic robin in Prospect Park in 2008:

And here is a photo from 2010:

There is no question that these are all the same individual. Up to this point, I assumed that robin's did not live very long, but this bird is at least 5 years old! In general, the smaller the bird, the shorter the lifespan. So how long do American Robins live? According to the website "", about 5 or 6 years. From their website:

Most robins die their first year. But the lifespan goes up dramatically for the ones that survive that critical time, because they've learned so many important life skills.

Of those that survive their first year, most wild robins live to be about 5 or 6. As of February, 2001, the longest-living banded wild robin ever recorded had survived 13 years and 11 months, according to the Bird Banding Laboratory at the Patuxent Wildlife Research Center. In captivity, robins have survived longer than 17 years.

Over the years, I've noticed that this robin prefers to nest in the area adjacent to the Upper Pool, just North of the park's "Dog Beach". You might want to keep an eye out for him in that area during the Spring and Summer months. Since he is so easy to differentiate from all the other "plain" robins, it will be interesting to see how many more years he survives. I wonder how many offspring he has sired? According to "The Birder's Handbook", American Robins raise anywhere from 3 to 7 offspring, with 4 being the average. They normally have 2 clutches per season, but frequently have 3. So, in five breeding seasons it is not unreasonable to estimate he has fathered 40 offspring. I wonder if he has passed on leucistic genes to any of his kids.


larryz said...

I remember seeing that bird in exactly the location you describe, the lawn in front of the dog beach. It must be 3 years ago now. Good to see the fellow is still around. I had no idea robins lived 5 or 6 years. He is a striking bird.


Monica said...

I had a funny encounter with a non-birder related to this robin. She asked me if could I identify a a bird that looked like a cow. I was quite puzzled but eventually put two-and-two together.

pecosd said...

I took pictures of that bird over 3 years ago. It would make for a good art show. All these cameras and that 1 bird.


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