'Snow' Robin

Field Paintings

Several years ago I saw a very unusual robin in Hembury Woods near Buckfast. It was grey and white with just a touch of red on each side of the breast – a beautiful bird. I thought this must be a one-off freak of nature, some sort of leucism but this year there were reports of a similar bird in north Devon.

It is on territory along a stretch of the Tarka Trail at Chivenor near Barnstaple and it didn’t take long to locate it. This bird is purely grey and white with just a hint of warmth in the plumage. A report in the local paper quoted Hein van Grouw, senior curator at the Natural History Museum in Tring, saying: “The pale colour of this robin is the result of a mutation which causes the dilution of both pigments, eumelanin and phaeomelanin.” Apparently this is very rare but occurs much more frequently in British robins than elsewhere in Europe.

I never heard the Hembury Woods bird sing and wondered if a robin this colour could defend a territory but the Chivenor bird was singing a lot and chasing 2 normal coloured robins out of its patch, which is a 30 metre stretch of the trail bordered each side by a thick hedge and ditch. Hopefully it will survive the winter though these birds must be prone to predation by birds of prey. Birds of this colour have been known to successfully breed.

John Walters

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