Standing out in the crowd

Flanders Moss NNR

Thousands of pink-footed geese use the fields around Flanders during the winter. Each year I scan through them when I get the chance to look for any unusual goose species that might have tagged along with the crowd, or for birds with neck rings to read the unique code on them to find out a bit about their history.

Yesterday we were coming off the moss and stopped close to Littlewards farm to scan a few hundred geese that were feeding in a stubble field. As the geese started to shuffle away one stood out as being clearly very different. It was so much paler than all of the other pinkies around it. A closer look revealed what we think is a leucistic pink-footed goose. Leucism is when there is a partial loss of pigment, in this case in the plumage. This is because the cells responsible for the melanin (dark) pigment production can be missing while the pigment cells responsible for the production of carotenoids (yellow and browns) can be unaffected. The result is a pale, strangely coloured bird that stands out from the crowd. This can be a disadvantage as it becomes more obvious to predators and also sometimes it can mean the individual isn’t accepted or recognised by the rest of the flock. This bird seems to have survived predation and was right in the middle of this group of pinkies so so far so good. You can find out more strange bird plumages here.

And it was only when searching through some poorly and hastily taken photos that i noticed that close by the leucistic bird was a barnacle goose. These beautiful little geese mainly winter south on the Solway and on Islay.  Often individuals that have got separated from their own flocks join up with the pinkies for company so we occasionally see them on the Carse.  So a double bonus all round.

Apologies for the very poor photos. The leucistic bird is the pale blob in the middle of the flock – it wouldn’t stick its head up to give itself a proper goose shape.

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The barnacle goose is right in front of the leucistic pink-footed goose, it has a pale grey side. 

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