An incredibly rare leucistic red-tailed hawk is recovering after officials rescued it from Oregon’s Rum Creed wildfire.
Operations Section Chief Jesse Blair found the bird near the Incident Command Post in the Sprague Seed Orchard on Sept. 22, according to Mail Tribune. As he was leaving the post, its bright white color caught his eye.
Blair drove to the bird and noticed it was unable to fly. When he got closer, it fell to the ground and tried to run away. Rescuers were able to capture the hawk and take it to Wildlife Images, a local rehabilitation center.
This particular red-tailed hawk is uncommon because of leucism, which is a genetic condition that prevents pigments from coloring birds’ feathers. However, the eyes and skin still receive the pigment. There are varying degrees of leucism, but all birds carrying it turn at least partially snow white.
Wildlife Images’ Marketing and Community Relations Manager Ben Maki said that this bird is more white than most with the condition.
“It’s got a couple red feathers on its tail and a couple on its head,” he said. “But it’s almost entirely white. You’ll see leucistic animals, more commonly, with a patch here or there. But you won’t see them as often because those markings can also end up identifying them to potential predators.”
Rescuers Hope to Release the Rare Bird Back into the Wild
Unfortunately, the hawk is currently struggling to survive. As of Sept. 28, specialists had it on antibiotics and supplemental oxygen. And Maki said that it is healing from wounds that are “indicative of having been in a fight with another raptor.”
“There are some injuries on the bird’s leg, and its wings had been wet when it was picked up, hampering its ability to fly,” Maki said.
“The injuries are starting to heal, but the bird does have an infection, so we’re doing everything we can to treat it and minimize any added stress to the bird,” he added.
Maki noted that the hawk is popular with the locals. Only 1 in 30,000 birds will be born with leucism or albinoism, so it’s a beautiful and prized member of the community.
Southern Oregon University biologist Stewart Janes told the publication that he’s made a living out of birds, and he’s never seen a hawk quite like this one.
“I’ve studied red-tailed hawks quite a lot, and I’ve never seen a leucistic bird,” he admitted. “…I’ve seen [the condition] in robins, and birds like that, but never a hawk.”
Despite the severity of its condition, the rehabilitation center is still hopeful that the rare bird, dubbed “744” can be released back into the wild.
“We don’t name our rehab animals because, in the rehab world, it’s kind of viewed as bad luck,” Maki added. “We’re hoping he’s just passing through and we’ll be able to send him back to the skies at some point.