In the majority of cases, the behaviour of abnormal-looking birds has been described as being very similar to that of 'normal' individuals of the same species. This is interesting since there is reason to suspect that differences might be detected. For example, abnormal birds might not be accepted by a potential mate or might give the wrong signals to other birds, causing communication problems. Despite some reports of abnormal birds being loners, sometimes even 'bullied' by others of the same or of different species, there are equivalent numbers of reports of abnormal individuals being more aggressive, apparently even dominant over others.
Perhaps the most significant behavioural effect is, in fact, in people. Being easily identifiable, garden bird enthusiasts often develop a special bond with abnormal-looking birds and chart their fortunes with particular interest. One survey participant in Birmingham, after seeing a leucistic Blackbird, commented: “Handy to have the white tail as it makes her easy to spot – children love seeing her.” Some birds have been described as appearing to wear “a scarf”, “an Elizabethan Ruff” or “a white helmet”. Other birds have had patches of white as if they “had been painting” or “rolled in flour”. One Blackbird was described as having “go faster stripes!”
Several birds have attracted names that relate to human occupations – most numerously, those with white collars being named the “vicar” or “parson”. One Blackbird with a white cap across the top of his head was referred to as “Judge”. More generally, people tend to consider that birds with abnormal plumage look rather wonderful: “truly adorable”, “very elegant” and “lovely - like a ghost” being three descriptions given.
Have you ever seen a bird with unusual plumage characteristics in your garden? Was it behaving unusually? Please let us know by taking part in our Abnormal Plumage Survey.