It hasn’t come close to snowing this winter in South Louisiana, but Greg Willis and his grandson got a ‘white Christmas’ just the same.
In late December, Willis and his 7-year-old grandson Grayson, along with a few other hunters, got quite a surprise duck hunting off the Calcasieu River in Allen Parish when a woodie as white as the pure driven snow paid them a visit.
“We weren’t expecting very much with all the rains this year,” Willis said. “The cypress brake we hunt is flooded, and the birds can go anywhere they want.”
With a slow morning on the horizon, Grayson sat with his grandfather patiently waiting on the day’s first birds when, without warning, a group of wood ducks appeared.
“I spotted a band of wood ducks swinging in toward our blind,” Willis said. “And I immediately noticed a white duck in the group. I only had enough time to say ‘Look at that’ when we all rose up to shoot.”
Willis dropped the bright white UFO, along with a few other woodies taken by the group.
The hunters were all amazed at the stark white duck that fell from the sky.
“We had never seen that bird before. No one had any idea he was flying around,” Willis said.
And none of the duck hunters he’s communicated with have seen or heard about anyone taking an albino wood duck in the area before.
After reviewing a few photos of the bird, Paul Link, the North American Waterfowl Management Plan Coordinator with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, said he couldn’t definitively say what caused the duck’s distinct appearance.
“It’s tough to tell from pictures whether it’s a true albino, leucistic, or some other variant of a mutation,” Link said, noting that for whatever reason, wood ducks are particularly prone to color mutations.
Leucism is a genetic mutation that more commonly affects only sections of an animal, preventing the melanin pigment from being deposited normally. A ‘piebald’ whitetail is a more common example hunters might be familiar with regarding leucism.
Albinism, on the other hand, affects all of the animal’s melanin pigment, which in the case of a duck, results in pale pink eyes, legs and bill.
“These animals often have poor vision and depth perception as compared to normal bird’s eyes,” Link said. “It’s pretty amazing that thing could survive that long in the wild.”
Despite a below-average duck season so far, Willis said Grayson’s already gotten in on a hunt that he’ll likely never forget.
As for the white woodie, as you might expect, it’s headed for a place of honer in the Willis household.
“I’ve never mounted any ducks before, but I’m going to put this one on the wall,” he said.