Site by Bennett Web & Design Co.
An Observation of a Partially Albinistic Zenaida macroura
James B. Berdeen 1,2,* and David L. Otis3,4
Abstract - Three of the 4 forms of albinism that occur in avifauna have been detected in Zenaida
macroura (Mourning Dove). Albinism is rare in this species, and the incidence rate of each age and
sex cohort is not well known. Consequently, we examined the pigmentation of Mourning Doves
encountered in the Coastal Plain of South Carolina, and classified the age and sex of all individuals.
One adult male Mourning Dove had unusually light coloration of some feathers and the upper
mandible. This pigmentation is consistent with partial albinism. This was the only individual out
of 10,749 examined that appeared to be albinistic. This low incidence rate of albinism supports the
conclusion that this condition is relatively rare in Mourning Doves (Mirarchi 1993).
Four forms of albinism have been observed in avifauna: (1) total, in which melanin
pigments are completely absent from the skin, feathers, and irises; (2) incomplete, in
which melanin pigments are completely absent from the skin, feathers, or irises, but not
from all three structures; (3) imperfect, in which pigmentation is diluted or reduced from
the skin, feathers, or irises; and (4) partial, in which pigmentation is reduced or absent
from localized portions of the skin, feathers, and irises (see Mueller and Hutt 1941). In
the latter form, white areas may occur in only a few feathers and can be symmetrical or
asymmetrical (Gross 1965).
All forms except total albinism have been reported in Zenaida macroura L. (Mourning
Dove; Armstrong and Noakes 1977, Braun and Boyd 1979, Graefe and Hollander
1945, Ross 1963). However, albinism is considered rare in both this species (Mirarchi
1993) and Columbids in general (Gross 1965). Further, the incidence rate of albinism in
each age and sex cohort of Mourning Doves is not well known (Mirarchi 1993). Consequently,
albinistic individuals should be collected, and the form of albinism, age, and sex
classified (Mirarchi 1993).
During an investigation of the population dynamics of Mourning Doves in the Coastal
Plain of South Carolina, we captured an individual with external coloration consistent
with albinism. We provide digital images and a description of the coloration of this bird,
and classify its form of albinism, age, and sex. We also make an inference about the incidence
rate of albinism in Mourning Doves.
Methods. We examined Mourning Doves during July to November 1998–2000 at
the Bluff (33°31'N, 80°26'W) and Cuddo (33°31'N, 80°17'W) Units of Santee National
Wildlife Refuge (NWR) in Clarendon County, Santee-Cooper Wildlife Management Area
(33°25'N, 80°18'W) in Orangeburg County, and Walworth Plantation (33°22'N, 80°17'W)
in Orangeburg and Berkeley counties. We encountered these individuals during capture
efforts and hunter-bag checks.
Mourning Doves were captured in Kniffin traps (Reeves et al. 1968) baited with
Zea mays L. (Corn), Panicum miliaceum L. (Proso Millet), and Urochloa ramosum L.
(Browntop Millet) seeds, classified to age and sex by external feather characteristics
1Department of Aquaculture, Fisheries, and Wildlife, G-08 Lehotsky Hall, Clemson University,
Clemson, SC 29634. 2Current address - Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, Wetland
Wildlife Populations and Research Group, 102 23rd Street NE, Bemidji, MN 56601. 3United States
Geological Survey, South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, Clemson University,
Clemson, SC 29634. 4Current address - Iowa Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit,
Department of Animal Ecology, Iowa State University, Ames, IA 50011. *Corresponding author
Notes of the Southeastern Nat u ral ist, Issue 10/1, 2011
186 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 10, No. 1
(Cannell 1984, Schulz et al. 1995), and tagged with a standard US Geological Survey
(USGS) aluminum butt-end size 3A leg-band. We also radiomarked a subset of legbanded
individuals (Schulz et al. 1998, 2001). All tagged individuals were released near
their respective capture site.
We conducted hunter-bag checks within 5.0 km of the perimeter of the 4 study sites
to document the fate of tagged individuals, determine the number of individuals harvested,
and classify the age and sex cohorts of harvested Mourning Doves. The number
of Mourning Doves encountered during this study was the number of live individuals
captured plus the number of dead individuals encountered during hunter-bag checks.
Figure 1. Evidence of partial albinism in an AHY male Mourning Dove is observable in the unusually
light coloration of the (a) feathers of the nape, hindneck, side of neck, and upper back; (b)
feathers of the forehead, crown, side of neck, and tertial and lesser coverts of the wing; and the
upper mandible; (c) feathers of the nape, hindneck, upper back, tertial and lesser coverts of the
wing; (d) feathers of the forehead, side of neck, lesser underwing coverts; and upper mandible; and
(e) feathers of the belly and breast.
2011 Southeastern Naturalist Notes 187
Results. An adult male Mourning Dove with an unusually light coloration of some external
body parts was captured and banded at the Bluff Unit on 13 November 1998. This
individual had numerous light-colored spots on feathers of the upper back, side of neck,
hindneck, nape, crown, and forehead (Fig. 1a–c). There were a few light-colored spots
on the tertial and lesser coverts of the wing (Fig. 1b), the lesser underwing coverts (Fig.
1d–e), and breast and belly feathers (Fig. 1e). The distal portion of the upper mandible
was cream-colored and gray, but the proximal portion was reddish (Fig. 1b and 1d). The
coloration of the irises and legs appeared normal (see Otis et al. 2008). We did not collect
either feather samples from this individual or the entire bird to provide evidence of
albinism and positively determine sex because these actions were not authorized by our
state and federal banding permits. The fate of this individual is unknown because it was
not recovered during hunter-bag checks, recaptured during the 1999–2000 field seasons,
or reported to the USGS Bird Banding Laboratory as of December 2009.
We encountered 10,749 Mourning Doves during this study: 87 tagged with standard
leg-bands, 256 tagged with both leg-bands and radiotransmitters, and 10,406 untagged
individuals examined during hunter-bag checks. The adult male with the light-colored
spots is the only individual we encountered with coloration that was consistent with any
form of albinism.
Discussion. The pigmentation of the adult male with the light-colored spots on its
feathers and light coloration of part of the beak is most consistent with the partial form of
albinism (see Mueller and Hutt 1941). Partial albinism (Braun and Boyd 1979), a spotted
pattern (Ross 1963), and a light-colored beak (Graefe and Hollander 1945) have been
reported in Mourning Doves.
The age and sex of albinistic individuals reported in 2 other investigations are: 1 male
of unspecified age (Graefe and Hollander 1945), and 1 immature male, 1 adult male, and
2 immature birds of unspecified sex (Braun and Boyd 1979). The prevalence of males in
this and the 2 other studies is surprising because hereditary albinism in avifauna is most
prevalent in females (Mueller and Hutt 1941). However, variables that seem unrelated to
sex (e.g., diet, disease, inbreeding, injury) also may cause albinism (Sage 1962).
One of >10,000 Mourning Doves examined during this study appeared to have any
form of albinism. Similarly, 4 of >28,400 Mourning Doves examined in Colorado were
albinistic (Braun and Boyd 1979). A comparison of these incidence rates with those of
other avian species (Gross 1965) supports the conclusion of Mirarchi (1993), i.e., albinism
is relatively rare in Mourning Doves. However, the incidence rate of albinism may
be underestimated if the selective pressures against individuals with this condition are
relatively great (Braun and Boyd 1979).
The rarity of albinism and lack of detailed descriptions in some publications contribute
to the scant knowledge of this condition in Mourning Doves (see Mirarchi 1993).
Consequently, any potentially albinistic individuals of this species should be collected,
the age and sex classified, the form of albinism identified, and the cause of albinism (e.g.,
diet, disease, hereditary, inbreeding, injury) determined (Mirarchi 1993).
Acknowledgments. Funding for this project was provided by the US Fish and Wildlife
Service Webless Migratory Upland Game Bird Research Fund, USGS – Biological
Resources Division South Carolina Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit, South
Carolina Department of Natural Resources (DNR), South Carolina Public Service Authority
(Santee Cooper), Clemson University, and Safari Club International. Logistical
support was provided by Santee NWR and DNR personnel. Employees of the Clemson
University Godley-Snell Research Center provided digital photo images of the albinistic
Mourning Dove. We thank M. Anteau, J. Burnham III, L. Cookman, C. Grondin,
A. Hutchins, and K. Sughrue for assistance with field research. D. Rave provided helpful
comments on an earlier version of this manuscript.
188 Southeastern Naturalist Vol. 10, No. 1
Armstrong, E.R., and D.L.G. Noakes. 1977. Albino Mourning Dove sightings in Ontario. Auk
Braun, C.E., and R.L. Boyd. 1979. Albinism in Mourning Doves. Southwestern Naturalist
Cannell, P.F. 1984. A revised age/sex key for Mourning Doves, with comments on the definition of
molt. Journal of Field Ornithology 55:112–114.
Graefe, C.F., and W.F. Hollander. 1945. A pale mutant Mourning Dove. Auk 62:300.
Gross, A.O. 1965. The incidence of albinism in North American birds. Bird-Banding 32:67–71.
Mirarchi, R.E. 1993. Growth, maturation, and molt. Pp. 129–142, In T.S. Baskett, M.W. Sayre,
R.E. Tomlinson, and R.E. Mirarchi (Eds). Ecology and Management of the Mourning Dove.
Stackpole Books, Harrisburg, PA. 567 pp.
Mueller, C.D., and F.B. Hutt. 1941. Genetics in fowl: 12-sex-linked, imperfect albinism. Journal
of Heredity 32:71–80.
Otis, D.L., J.H. Schulz, D. Miller, R.E. Mirarchi, and T.S. Baskett. 2008. Mourning Dove (Zenaida
macroura). The Birds of North America, Number 117. Available online at http://bna.birds.cornell.
edu.bnaproxy.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/117. Accessed 9 March 2010.
Reeves, H.M., A.D. Geis, and F.C. Kniffin. 1968. Mourning Dove capture and banding. US Fish
and Wildlife Service, Washington, DC. Special Scientific Report – Wildlife 117.
Ross, C.C. 1963. Albinism in North American birds. Cassinia 47:2–21.
Sage, B.L. 1962. Albinism and melanism in birds. British Birds 55:201–225.
Schulz, J.H., S.L. Sheriff, Z. He, C.E. Braun, R.D. Dobney, R.E. Tomlinson, D.D. Dolton, and R.A.
Drobney. 1995. Accuracy of techniques used to assign Mourning Dove age and gender. Journal
of Wildlife Management 59:759–765.
Schulz, J.H., A.J. Bermudez, J.L. Tomlinson, J.D. Firman, and Z. He. 1998. Effects of implanted radiotransmitters
on captive Mourning Doves. Journal of Wildlife Management 62:1451–1460.
Schulz, J.H., A.J. Bermudez, J.L. Tomlinson, J.D. Firman, and Z. He. 2001. Comparison of radiotransmitter
attachment techniques using captive Mourning Doves. Wildlife Society Bulletin