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Harford residents spot unusual animals in their backyards

Janice Easter and her husband, David, attracted what they believe was an albino hummingbird to their Fallston yard late in the summer. Officials from the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service concur.
Janice Easter and her husband, David, attracted what they believe was an albino hummingbird to their Fallston yard late in the summer. Officials from the Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service concur. (Courtesy of Janice Easter, Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Janice Easter has been attracting birds of all types to her Fallston yard for years, but this summer, she saw one she's not sure she'll ever see again: an albino hummingbird.

Easter shot a photograph of the bird on Aug. 18 as it ate from the hummingbird feeder in her backyard on Angleside Road. She's positive it was an albino hummingbird, other than another variety.

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"I think it's a once in a lifetime. If we see it again next year it will be a miracle in my opinion," Easter said.

"Her thinking is it's an albino," Ken D'Loughy, regional manager for Maryland Wildlife and Heritage Service, part of the Department of Natural Resources, said.

And speaking of albino animals, Havre de Grace resident Ray Roszak thinks an albino deer has been frequenting his backyard for more than a month.

"It was kind of interesting. We have been living here now for 23 years and we have deer in the back most of the time, but it's the first time I ever saw an albino here," Roszak, who lives on Hutchins Court in Bayview Estates, said.

While it could be an albino deer, it could also be a piebald, a deer that lacks pigmentation in its hair, almost like patchwork, D'Loughy said. Such deer, while unusual, have been seen in Harford from time to time.

The hummingbird

Easter's hummingbird feeder hangs in her backyard, next to her patio. She fills it with hummingbird food she makes herself.

"They are attracted to sugar-water; red and pink also attract them," she said. "Lots of times if you buy it commercially made, the sugar-water is dyed red. I just make up my own."

She changes the water every three to four days to keep the birds healthy.

It has small holes for hummingbirds to stick their beaks through.

After seeing the white hummingbird for two to three weeks, four to fives times a day in the morning and afternoon, she hasn't seen it for a while, and assumes it has migrated.

"It was very quick. I was lucky to get that one shot of it. It wouldn't sit still for long," Easter said, joking that it took her four days to get a decent picture.

Hummingbirds are common in this area, she said, and they visit her yard often, but she's never seen a white one. The only type of hummingbird east of the Rocky Mountains is the ruby-throated hummingbird, which always has color.

"I've never seen one before. It's rare," she said of the albino.

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At first, she wasn't sure what she was seeing.

"I was amazed. The first time I saw something fly by. I thought it was a hummingbird, but I thought it can't be because it's white," she said.

She saw it again the next day, and so did her husband, David.

"He said, 'Did you see that hummingbird?' and I asked which one," she said. "He said, 'The white one.'"

Since the albino hummingbird seems to have migrated for the season, Easter said doesn't believe she'll see it again. Because it lacks color, the white stands out and makes it more susceptible to predators.

"The chances of him or her surviving are slimmer than others," she said.

DNR investigates

Officials from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources were intrigued at the possibility of the bird in the Easters' yard being an albino.

"In nature, anything can happen," D'Loughy said. "It's quite unusual, quite rare. It's highly unusual for something like that, but I imagine it does happen in nature."

After looking at Easter's photo, D'Loughy was able to confirm it is a hummingbird, "there's no doubt about that."

It could, however, have been what is known as a leucistic hummingbird. A true albino animal lacks pigment and everything is white. A leucistic hummingbird has black eyes, feet and bill, but its feathers are all white.

Unsure, D'Loughy consulted with Gwen Brewer, the science program manager for the Natural Heritage Program of the Wildlife and Heritage Service.

"It's kind of interesting to follow up on this stuff," he said.

Brewer told D'Loughy in her opinion it's an albino.

"It appears to be a true albino because its bill is a red/pinkish color," he said.

Backyard sanctuary

The Easters have been attracting animals to their yard since they moved in 35 years ago.

"I like looking out my back door. We have woods behind us — deer, fox that come through. A groundhog lives in the barn next door. And I just like the other birds," Easter said.

The have gold finches, scarlet finches, sparrows, black-capped chickadees, tufted titmouse, cardinals, blue jays and blue birds.

"It took years to attract them; now we have a lot of them," she said, adding they also see robins in the spring, as well as pileated, ladderback and downy woodpeckers.

"We have had a merlin falcon come through the yard."

The fascination?

"Just that they're interesting. They're beautiful and they're just nice to look at and listen to," she said. "I love to hear bird song."

The white deer

Roszak likes to watch the deer in his Havre de Grace backyard.

"They come in the backyard and lay underneath the big holly bush," he said.

They've started to wander up and down the street, even cross the street.

Roszak said deer have a lot of twins, which he believes the two in his neighborhood are.

"One is full white; the other is brown on his back and white underneath, not a pure albino," he said.

The two deer are about the size of a small pony, 3 1/2 to 4 feet high.

"They're pretty big now. I think they were in a nest somewhere and they were being fed by their mother," he said.

Roszak said he sees them three to four times a week.

"They just wander around, but they really seem to like the holly bush," he said.

DNR's thoughts

What Roszak sees in his backyard could be a piebald, D'Loughy said.

A piebald has pigmentation in his hair almost like patchwork, with brown patches in places. A true albino, D'Loughy said, has no pigment in its fur.

"If it's completely white, I guess it could be an albino," he said.

"Probably a true albino is rare, while a piebald is not that uncommon, you see in populations," he said.

After looking at Roszak's pictures, D'Loughy said "the deer are definitely piebald."

A white deer was seen near Laurel Brook Road in Fallston in September 2012. A resident there said the deer, which had been around for several weeks, was 99 percent white.

Like Roszak, she thought it might be an albino, but when she looked at it more closely, she said it had brown and black markings on its head, and figured it was a piebald instead.

"It catches my eye. The other deer blend in with their surroundings," she said.

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