Subject: acquisition of white feathers Date: Nov 3 10:15:46 1994 From: Dennis Paulson - dpaulson at ups.edu
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."
"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 ups.edu Tacoma, WA 98416