'Albino' Bearded tit spotted in Lancashire.08/06/2006 00:00:00 November 2006. Wildlife experts have been amazed by the sighting of a partially albino bearded tit at the RSPB’s Leighton Moss nature reserve in Lancashire. It’s the first time that a white one has been seen at the nature reserve, or possibly anywhere in the world.
Bearded tits are normally brown and black and the males have ‘moustaches’ and grey heads. A member of the public first spotted the ‘mysterious’ white bird in the reedbed during a visit to the reserve and took a photograph of it. The photo was sent to RSPB wardens, who identified the bird as a bearded tit.
This bird is not a true albino as, although it is almost completely white, the bird has pigment in the eyes and beak. Jen Walker of the RSPB Leighton Moss reserve said, ‘Bearded tits are elusive birds at the best of times and because they spend all their lives living in dense reedbeds, they are usually very difficult to see. To be able to take such a stunning photograph of this bird was quite an achievement.
Albinism is due to gene mutations that affect the production of pigmentation. True albino animals lack melanin and are white with no markings and with unpigmented pink eyes. In some species there is also a form known as blue-eyed (or partial) albinism.
It is thought that albinism may also occur as a bird gets older, in the same way as people go grey!
Jen added, ‘The normal opinion is that albino birds don’t live very long in the wild because they are very conspicuous to predators. However, there is every chance that our white bearded tit will be able to survive in the dense, well-managed reedbeds at the RSPB Leighton Moss reserve. I hope that other visitors to the reserve may get the chance to spot this remarkable bird.’
Bearded tits are very fussy about where they live - they are only found in reedbeds, where they nest among the reed stems and feed on reed seeds and reedbed insects. With less than 500 pairs in the UK, they are one of the country’s rarest birds and a target for special conservations effort by the RSPB. Leighton Moss is one of only a handful of places in the country where the sparrow-sized birds nest. Around 30 pairs of bearded tits nested at Leighton Moss this year and raised almost eighty young.
Leighton Moss is the largest remaining reedbed in north-west England. The reserve is well-known for its special birds: breeding bitterns, bearded tits, marsh harriers and avocets. The reserve and visitor centre are open daily all year round (except 25 December).