Subject: acquisition of white feathers
Date: Nov 3 10:15:46 1994
From: Dennis Paulson - dpaulson at

I wrote to Byron Butler, who reported captive black-capped chickadees
becoming white and then dying (or were they dyeing):

"Byron, your previous posting (forwarded to Tweeters) implied that your
captive chickadee(s?) "turned" white. Did this mean that the feathers
changed color after they had been grown? Or did molt take place, with the
new feathers white? This has generated a lot of discussion here, as there
are quite a few white-backed chickadees in Seattle right now."

He answered:

"Dennis, Sorry this is so late, it is nice to hear from you. I've been
very busy an am running a couple of days behind. Yes, pigmented feathers
turned white, they did not come into white feathers via molting -- well
not the majority of the "white" feathers anyway. Of course it would have
been easy for me to have missed the tiny feathers from the pileum had
they molted, but I surely would not have missed a fairly good number of
molted remiges and rectricies. As I said before, the only way for me to
have determined causation for this phenomenon would have been to risk the
lives of other birds since all these chickadees died -- and this I did
not do for a number of different reasons. Thus, one can only speculate."

Keep watching those pallid chickadees, Rachel and anyone else who finds
them. The two I mentioned in my yard are still there, unchanged as far as I
can see, and I saw a third with some white feathers the other day that I
hadn't noticed before. Flocks and individual birds are known to move around
quite a bit.

Dennis Paulson phone: (206) 756-3798
Slater Museum of Natural History fax: (206) 756-3352
University of Puget Sound email: dpaulson at
Tacoma, WA 98416