Can you identify this bird?
I spotted it outside my window and managed to take this photo before it flew away. I’d seen it on a few occasions previously, and wondered about its identity. I hadn’t seen a bird like it, not even in the bird books. But now that I had a photo, I took a closer look and consulted my bird books again. Still no luck! I thought it was a bulbul because I’d always seen it in the company of bulbuls — but no bulbul I saw, either in books or online, looked like my bird.
Finally, I posted my photo to a nature website, and a knowledgeable soul told told me that it’s a red-whiskered bulbul, and it’s unusual coloration is because it’s a leucistic individual; the strange plumage is due to a genetic mutation that prevents normal melanin deposition on the bird’s plumage. I think the human analog would be individuals with leucoderma (vitiligo). Below is a normal red-whiskered bulbul. Yes, there’s a family (if not a colony) that lives in the lime tree in my backyard.
Birds with abnormal plumage are vulnerable because of they look different and hence are sometimes shunned by or even attacked by their own species. I was immediately reminded of the controversial book The Painted Bird by Kosinski. No, I haven’t read the book itself, but I read about it in the appendix to Thomas Szasz’s The Manufacture of Madness, with whose anti-establishment thesis I completely identified when I was in college. R.D. Laing was another favorite.
At any rate, I’m happy my leucistic bulbul is a happy, contented full-fledged (pun intended!) member of its flock.