Country diary 1920: white sparrow makes rare appearance

A correspondent has sent news of a white sparrow which frequents a farm a few miles from Manchester. White sparrows are less common than white blackbirds; all birds are liable to “sports,” for all living creatures vary individually, though it is only when the variation is emphatic that we notice it at all. Albinism, when pigment is absent from the iris as well as from the skin, feather, or hair, is usually accompanied by weakness, but variation in colour, even when it means that white predominates, does not necessarily imply physical defect. In northern lands, where for the greater part of the year snow persists, many creatures have, either by sudden and marked change, or by gradual evolution, developed a more or less white dress, which may or may not be replaced by a less conspicuous garb for the summer; in our changeable climate a white sport has little opportunity of leaving hereditary characters.

We see white or nearly white birds, excluding gulls whose light plumages are advantageous to them, as winter visitors, but amongst the resident species there is only the ptarmigan which puts on a snowy garb. Even amongst the regular visitors there are some which are less white in winter than in summer; in it’s breeding dress the male snow bunting is far whiter than when it travels south for the winter, but it nests only in high altitudes whilst the winter snows remain unmelted. The white sparrow is a freak, and as a freak it will most likely be discovered by some wide awake enemy, human or other.