'Extremely rare' white puffin caught on camera
Wednesday, March 17 2010 @ 02:09 PM EDT
Contributed by: Pat B
By Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 1:24 PM on 15th March 2010
This extremely rare white Atlantic Puffin has stunned bird experts after it was spotted playing with its more common black-feathered friends off the British coast.
At first glance the remarkable bird looks like an albino but it has orange eyes and bill and black edges on a few feathers.
It actually has a colouring which is called leucism and is so unusual it was considered mythical by sailors in the 17th Century.
All white: This rare white puffin was pictured off the Isles of Scilly by wildlife photographer Barbara Fryer
Albinism is a genetic mutation that prevents the strong black pigment called melanin from forming. With leucism, colour pigments form but are diluted.
Photographer Barbara Fryer, from Umberleigh, Devon, snapped the puffin from a boat that was bobbing around the Isles of Scilly, off the Cornish coast.
She said: 'I love puffins - they are stunning birds and this white one is even more beautiful than most.
'I've seen many puffin colonies across the UK over the past ten years and have never seen a white one before. Nobody I know has ever seen a white one either.
'We had been out every day that week taking photos of puffins and we saw the white one on the last day.
'It was lovely to see it swimming underwater and I am thrilled to have got the shots I wanted in quite difficult conditions.
Play time: Pictured alongside one of its more common black-feathered friends
'The white puffin was sitting on the water as we were floating near rocks, watching adults return to their nests to feed their young.
'It played around with the other puffins for about 15 minutes before flying away. They didn't seem to mind it's unusual colour and treated it like a good friend.
'Sadly, once it flew off we never saw it again.' Bird expert Peter Robinson, who has worked on the BBC Springwatch programme and for the RSPB for 25 years, said the white puffin was extemely rare.
He said: 'I lived on the Isles of Scilly for 12 years and worked ringing puffins in Scotland for a season and have never even heard of a white puffin let alone seen one.
'It's a stunning photograph and wonderful bird. The contrast between the orange bill and white feathers is particularly amazing.
'I imagine it looks splendid in full flight.' Atlantic Puffins, or Fratercula arctica, measure 12.5 inches long, have a wingspan of 21 inches and weigh around 13 ounces.
They are widely distributed across the North Atlantic for most of the year and only come ashore to breed.
During this time the plumage changes so they have dusky cheeks and smaller darker bills.
The colourful plates are lost after breeding and only regrow as spring approaches.
They eat fish and flap their wings up to 400 times per minute.