The white raptor: albino red-tailed hawk in Chicopee

A few months ago I was driving north on I-391 in Chicopee when a white bird burst from the forest on the right of the road and flew across the highway in front of my truck.

I was stunned: at first I thought it was a seagull, but its broad wings made me think it might be a snowy owl from that irruption we’ve been hearing about.

A few weeks later I was out on the bridge below the Holyoke Dam watching one of the eagles when a woman pulled her car over and got out to talk to me. She was a birder, too — a big fan of the eagle population along the Connecticut River corridor. As we chatted, the conversation turned toward the red-tailed hawks that reside along I-391 between Springfield and Holyoke. That’s when she asked me if I’d seen the albino.

The white hawk, she said, had hatched in the last year or two and she’d spotted it several times in Chicopee. I resolved to keep an eye out for it.

Today, driving north on 391 in the late afternoon, I spotted a white bird soaring high over the road. At first, again, I thought it was a seagull: I happened to catch a moment in its path when its wings looked more pointy than round-ish and broad (see the picture at right). I pulled into the breakdown lane, put on my hazard lights and shot what I could through my windshield.

The bird is nearly pure white — the only color on its body and back was the red-brown low-angle light of the sun. It had traces of faint red on the underside of its tail, and dark markings along its outer wing feathers.

I only had a 200mm lens with me, so the photos I’ve posted have been severely cropped. The photos are also high-resolution, so you can click to enlarge and then zoom.

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5 comments
  1. Dean Killelea said:

    There is a white “red tail” living in the Nepaug section of New Hartford CT., one red tail feather. I see it on a regular basis and have had many close up viewings

    • Very cool, Dean. I have not spotted the one in my neck of the woods in several months now, but it was just spotted along the Mass Pike the other day so I was pleased to see that it’s still in the area.

      It’s quite a treat to see one — glad you’ve had some good looks at the one near you!

  2. Thomas LeClair said:

    Saw this bird, or one like it hovering over rte 495 in Milford, Mass today November 3, 2016..

    • Thanks for the report!

      I have not seen the one in Chicopee for some time.

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