Talkin' Outdoors

Have you ever seen a pure albino animal or bird? I did once. Several years ago during winter, I looked out across the back yard at a flock of juncos (that’s the little black and white birds we have here in winter I grew up calling “snow birds”) and one of them was snow white.

That was before I owned a decent camera and my attempt at a photo revealed little more than a white speck among the black and white birds.

I did a bit of research on-line and found that albinism, or achromia, is a congenital disorder characterized by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the skin, hair and eyes due to the absence or defect of a copper-containing enzyme involved in the production of melanin.

Over the years, I have seen photos of partial albino deer and a few of total albino animals. Partial albinism is more common and they’re known as piebald, deer having blotches of white on their fur as adults.

I have seen one of these in the wild. I was sitting in a deer stand before season doing some scouting several years ago when this little doe approached the feeder with a couple of other normal colored deer. It had a white face and white stocking feet. I never saw it during hunting season and I hope it survived.

This brings me to something I have been seeing recently that has me baffled. I have a squirrel-proof bird feeder in my yard and in addition to birds, squirrels nibble on the seeds the birds drop. For the past few months, I have noticed something quite odd about the gray, or “cat”, squirrels in the yard. About half of them have tails that are completely different from the normal gray color; their tails are tan to brown with a tinge of red.

Not only have I noticed these strange looking cat squirrels in my yard, on my daily walks at Lincoln Parish Park, I’ve seen several gray squirrels with red tails. I’ve heard from a few readers who have told me the same thing; they’ve been seeing these strangely-color squirrels. What the heck is going on? Where has this change in color come from?

I contacted Jimmy Stafford, Wild Turkey Study Leader with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Stafford also oversees the state’s resident small game program.

“Although in summer, the squirrels go through a molting of their coats, which could make their tails and coats somewhat lighter in color, I would say it would be rather unusual if you should see any colored like this during hunting season,” Stafford commented.

The color on the tails of the squirrels I’ve seen is similar in color as that of fox squirrels. However since I have not seen a fox squirrel in my yard in several years, I’m certain I’m not mistaking those I’m seeing for fox squirrels. Can gray and fox squirrels inter-breed?

Stafford quickly put an end to that speculation when he affirmed that these two species don’t inter-breed.

“You get some rather weird colorations occasionally in the wild with squirrels. My son shot a fox squirrel last year down on Fort Polk that had all the coloration of a fox squirrel except it had a solid black tail. Retired biologist David Moreland showed me a photo of a fox squirrel he shot that looked almost blonde all over, about the color of a manila envelope,” Stafford added.

“Should you continue to see gray squirrels with red tails this fall and winter, I want to know about it because,” said Stafford, “that would be quite unusual.”

I’ll be on the lookout this fall and winter and I invite my readers to let me know if they see any such animals. This is just too interesting to pass up.