The Ballyduff White Blackbird

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A true story by Kathleen Cantillon

It was in the month of February. The snow lay heavily on the ground for days, and there was frost overnight, so one packed mass of snow lay on the ground.

When the sun shone at mid-day I took a walk along the bye-road near my home. As always, in the snow, there was an uncanny silence that you could almost hear.

It was unbroken, except for the chattering of birds. They were not able to forage for food for days, so they kept close to the humans.

I walked to the top of the hill. The birds alighted beside me. What a racket they were making. I turned to see the species they were. They were Black Birds.

But there in the middle of them was a white one.

GOD! I could not be seeing a White Blackbird.

This was the myth we had heard always. I blinked and rubbed my eyes, but it did not go away. I turned to walk home. They came on ahead of me and once again alighted.

This time I stood and really had a good look. Yes, there it was again, identical to the other birds, but white.

Wherever it perched they seemed to circle around it, as if they too knew it was special.

A few things crossed my mind as I stood there. Firstly, I could not mention this to anyone. I knew what they would say. What a pity I did not have a camera to prove even to myself what was happening.

These were the days before films were made in Ballyduff, and before Noel O’Connor went around snapping everything in sight, if it stayed still long enough.

These birds were in no hurry. I walked on home and tried to put it out of my mind.

One day I mentioned it to the late Eddie Joe Herbert. He didn’t seem at all surprised, but told me it was always said there was a White Blackbird in that area. That consoled me, somebody else had seen it.

At that time, there was a column in the Irish Press called “Land and Water”. I read it every day, as it was very informative.

This day a woman wrote in to ask if it was possible that she had seen a White Robin, as it was identical to a Robin in every way, except it was white.

In his reply he told her she could, and the reason – albinism. I wrote to him. The following is the extract of his reply to me.

Yes albinism in birds is not uncommon, the blackbird being an extreme case. It occurs also in members of the crow tribe, the occasional white raven and jackdaw, turning up in any species.

It is caused by partial or total absence of the normally present black pigment in the feathers and other parts. There is also melanism (a superabundance of black pigment), Xantrocrism (yellow feathers instead of green) and erythrism (an abnormal presence of red).”

I know now there is a logical explanation for everything under the sun, so, if you are walking a bye-road in Ballyduff and you see a White Blackbird, do not run to the nearest optician. You are only seeing the rarest of the rare who choose to make its home in Ballyduff.

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