B.C. photographer captures snapshot of rare ‘ghost bird’ magpie

Amanda Nelson says she found herself in the right place at the right time to capture a photo of a rare sight.

While visiting a friend, the photographer took a snapshot of what she believes is a leucistic magpie, often referred to as a ghost bird. Nelson, who lives in the Clinton area in B.C.’s Interior, said the bird had been living on her friend’s property.

With white-coloured chests and grey wings, leucistic magpies stand out from their black-billed brethren. 

“I’ve actually never seen one of these birds before. I’ve seen photos, but this is my first time actually seeing one in person,” Nelson told CBC’s Daybreak Kamloops with Shelley Joyce.

“I was so excited to get my camera and have it ready, but I wasn’t prepared for it to take off like it did, so I only got two photos, but those two photos turned out so I was very excited.”

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<p>Thursday April 25, 2024</p>

Nancy Flood, an ornithologist and president of the Kamloops Naturalist Club, said leucistic magpies aren’t to be confused with albino magpies.

“It’s not an albino because it’s not totally white and it doesn’t have pink eyes,” she said.

“Albinism, just like in people, is caused by a genetic mutation and it’s really bad news for the birds. It causes blindness and causes their feathers to be weak, and they don’t last very long … Although [leucism is] very rare, it’s much more common than albinism.”

Flood said leucistic birds are more common in larger cities because there are all kinds of contaminants in urban areas that can cause genetic mutations and damage melanin cells.

A bird flies away from a tree. Its feathers are nearly all white.
With white-coloured chests and grey wings, leucistic magpies stand out from their black-billed brethren. (Submitted by Amanda Nelson)

In 2015, Bird Studies Canada, the country’s national bird conservation organization, named Edmonton, Alta., Canada’s magpie capital due to its growing population.

In some cases, Flood said leucism can have advantages for male birds.

“Sometimes in birds, there’s this thing called the ‘rare male effect,’ where if birds look unusual, for some reason, they’re ‘sexier’ to the ladies,” she said.

Nelson said her interest in photography started in her youth. She only recently got back to the hobby a couple of years ago. She also has a love for birds. It amazes her to watch them, she said. 

“I never thought I’d see one,” she said of the leucistic magpie.

“You never really expect to find something like this. A lot of the time, patience pays off, but sometimes [you’ve] got to be in the right place at the right time.”


Posted in CBC