First photos of Colorado albino hummingbird taken in South Fork
This August a group of walkers spotted a rare white hummingbird in the Million Ranch development of South Fork. This turned out to be the first true albino hummingbird photographed in Colorado.
Local resident Kim Krahn first spotted the unusual bird on a morning walk around 8 a.m. Monday, August 25.
“I was the first to say anything, at least,” Kim said. “I just saw this bird flying back and forth. It sounded like a hummingbird, but it was white.”
She pointed it out to her husband Ken as well as fellow walkers Don and Betty Law of Balko, Oklahoma. At around 9 a.m., Don and Betty’s grandson, Jarret Kachel, took multiple pictures of the bird. Ken Trahn tried to get his own pictures later that night.
“It was already gone by the time I tried to look for it that night, to try and get some pictures of my own,” Ken said. “It must have already been migrating through.”
The Krahns have lived in South Fork for seven years, and have seen plenty of hummingbirds.
“We must have used a hundred pounds of sugar over the summer at our feeders,” Ken said.
The group realized quickly that the white bird was unusual, but it wasn’t until later that they realized how rare it was.
Only two white hummingbirds have been seen in Colorado before this bird, a broad-tailed hummingbird in 2007 and a rufous hummingbird in 2000 seen near Grand Junction. However, the South Fork bird is unique in that photographs are available and the bird is a true albino, rather than leucistic.
“Both are genetic, and leucistic animals have a loss of pigments in its feathers or skin, but it’s not complete,“ Kachel said. “However, albino animals have no pigment. What I looked for is the pink eyes. On a mammal you’d be looking at the skin. It’s harder on a bird, but you’re looking at things like the bill. Black bill or regular colored eyes would indicate a leucistic bird.”
Kachel has a MS in Biology and a BS in Wildlife Biology from West Texas A&M University. He has taught classes on ornithology, and has worked with prairie chicken in Beaver County, Oklahoma. He is also a hobbyist birder as well. He has cautiously identified it as a broadtailed hummingbird, Selasphorus platycercus.
“It’s the only bird we have throughout the summer,” Kachel said. “I don’t think the rufous humminbirds are still around this late, they usually leave earlier.”
Kachel did point out that this is a very hard identification to make, due to the lack of pigment, and the fact that both birds are part of the same genus.
“I wouldn’t say that it’s a hundred percent identification,” Kachel said. “It’s very hard to tell these two hummingbirds apart at the juvenile stage.”
As adults with normal plumage, however, the two birds are very easy to tell apart, as the broadtailed is green with a red bib, while the rufous, S. rufus, is a bright orange. Both species spend their summers across the Rocky Mountains, and winters in Mexico.
According to the Hilton Pond Center for Piedmont Natural History, only a dozen or so white hummingbirds, whether albino or leucistic, have been captured, banded and re-released. Of those so banded and released, none have returned from migrating to Mexico or farther south. Possible explanations include the white coloring make them more susceptible to predation, lack of pigment causing weaker, more breakable feathers, or other genetic anomalies that coincide with the lack of pigment.