In a rare sighting, a leucistic Coot was spotted – probably for the first time in India – during the ongoing Asian Waterbird Census 2011 being carried out at the Okhla bird sanctuary on the banks of the Yamuna in Delhi.

The AWC State Coordinator (Delhi) for Wetlands International - South Asia, which is conducting the census, Tarun K. Roy said it was during a visit to the Okhla Bird Sanctuary on January 20 this year that he first spotted a leucistic Coot (Fulica atra) with bright white in plumage instead of normal black plumage.

``This is the first time in India that such a leucistic Coot has been spotted with the flock of Common Coots,’’ said Mr. Roy, who was accompanied by Ananada Mukharjee during the census at the time of the sighting. ``Prior to this,’’ Mr. Roy said, such leucistic white Coot have been spotted in London in 2008 and in America in 2009 (Fulica americana).

On what makes these leucistic birds rare, Mr. Roy said leucism is an abnormal plumage colour caused by genetic mutation and pigmentation. Due to melanin reduction in their feathers, which varies according to their genetic make up, these birds do not have normal plumage colours but instead have abnormally bright white plumage.

Noting that several species of leucistic birds have already been recorded worldwide, he said leucism affects only the bird’s feathers. Some leucistic birds lose all the pigment in their feathers and appear pure white.

``Birds with extensive leucism have weaker feathers that wear out more swiftly, making flight more difficult. Besides this eliminates some of the bird’s insulation against harsh weather condition. White feathers reflect heat more efficiently and this could even prove fatal for birds that rely on sunbathing and solar radiation for heat and such a condition also makes them more prone to attack from predators,’’ Mr. Roy said.

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