By Mike Jones
An incredibly rare white ‘Ino’ owl has been spotted in the UK.
The beautiful pure white owl was photographed at a secret location, on private land, just outside of Durham City Centre.
Photographer, Hilary Chambers, who is also a member of the Durham Bird Club, took the extraordinary pictures but was asked to keep the location a secret in a bid to protect the rare bird.
The 68-year-old originally thought it was an Albino owl or a Leucistic owl but presented her incredible shots to Hein van Grouw, bird curator at The National History Museum, who later confirmed it was in fact an Ino bird.
Albinism is a congenital disorder characterised by the complete or partial absence of pigment in the feathers and Leucism is a condition in which there is partial loss of pigmentation in an animal resulting in white, pale, or patchy coloration of the feathers but not the eyes.
Albino birds, are a genetic mutation of the two.
In his email to Hilary, Hein said: “As the bird is clearly not a juvenile, so in other words; this bird is independent and able to source its own food, it must be an Ino rather than an Albino.
“Albino birds have a very poor eye sight due to the total lack of melanin pigment in their eyes. In Inos there is still a little bit melanin left, in both the eyes and the plumage.
“In the plumage, this pale coloured melanin rapidly bleaches further in the sunlight and soon the bird appears to be fully white.
“The remaining melanin in the eyes, however, is enough to keep a proper eyesight and therefore Ino birds do not have a problem with their vision and often survive very well for a long time.
“I knew about an Ino Long-eared owl who lived for years in a certain area (in the Netherlands) and even reared a nest of youngsters every year.”
Hilary, from Durham, added: “These photos were taken over the last month on a private site just outside of Durham City.
“I am a member of the Durham Bird Club and one of my friends at the club asked me if I could go and take some photos as he only has a mobile phone.
“I was asked to keep it a secret as it is on private land and he didn’t want the bird pestered by lots of photographers and twitchers, plus the fact that the owners wouldn’t have been too pleased to be inundated with lots of people.
“As you can imagine I jumped at the chance to see such a rarity. To my knowledge we haven’t had a bird like it in our area.
“The owners of the land have been very obliging in letting me go on several occasions to photograph the bird.
“We presumed that it was an Albino owl but a lot of people thought it was Leucistic. A bit of a debate ensued. Then I got a message from Hein van Grouw at the Natural History Museum in London.
“He studied the photographs I sent him and his reply certainly gave us something to think about as we had never heard of an Ino bird.
“You learn something every day.
“I am a keen birdwatcher and photographer and have been doing this for about 15 years now.
“I have had some great encounters over the years and you just never know what you are going to see next.”