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I recently went on a Bald Eagle photography tour on the Nooksack River with Aaron Baggenstos of Aaron’s Photo Tours, on which we saw many eagles – Aaron definitely knows where to go to find birds to photograph, and I highly recommend his bird photography tours! As you can see in the photos, the weather wasn’t great for photography, but it was a great day to see eagles. Overall there were approximately 30 bald eagles present in the area that we visited and several times we got to see as many as ten eagles fighting over a salmon in the river.
One of the highlights of the day was seeing and photographing the “leucistic” bald eagle shown in these photographs. Animals that are leucistic lack color in parts of their body, but are not fully albino. The photograph at the top of this story shows a leucistic eagle swooping in to join other eagles in a fight for a dead salmon that had snagged on a log.
I had already read about this rare eagle on the King5.com web site prior to the photo tour, so I was very excited to actually see the bird in person. Later I found more information about the eagle in a story on the National Geographic.com website. According to the National Geographic story, “leucism is a mutation that prevents melanin, or pigment, from being produced in parts of an animal’s body. In the case of birds, the pigment is absent from some feathers.” This can be seen in the mottled look of the leucistic eagle, as many of its feathers which should be black are white instead. While doing some additional research I discovered that pretty much any bird can exhibit leucism – I found photos on the internet of leucistic pigeons, humming birds, cardinals, geese and a wide variety of other bird species.
In some ways this eagle looks like a juvenile bald eagle, as juvenile eagles also have a similar mottled look. However, unlike a juvenile, this eagle has a white head and golden eyes and beak, which are features of an adult bald eagle. The photo below shows the leucistic eagle next to a juvenile bald eagle, and you can definitely see the differences between the two of them in terms of beak color and head coloring.
The final shot below shows the leucistic eagle after it left the fishing frenzy and flew off and landed on a nearby log to pose for us. He certainly looks a little bit scruffy after mixing it up with the other birds!
Photographs taken with Nikon D7000 Camera, Nikon 300mm f4 ED-IF AF-S lens with Nikon 1.4X Teleconverter.