20-year-old Matthew Dalton recently won the duck of a lifetime trophy. Dalton, of Goose Creek, South Carolina, had traveled with three friends to freelance in central Florida earlier this season. They were scouting a large lake in the afternoon for their first hunt the next morning – when Dalton spotted a white bird among a raft.
“I thought it was an albino bean and that it might be fun to put a stole on it,” he says. F&S. “We had just arrived and had all our gear with us, so I grabbed my duck hunting kayak and started making a stalk.”
The white bird flushed before it came close, and Dalton could tell it was a pond duck by the way it jumped from the laid-out reeds. He marked where he landed on the edge of a grass 800 yards away and started another stalk. As he drove closer, he stopped at the mosque every 50 meters. Through his binoculars, Dalton could see the duck preening and was able to identify it as a mallard. He also saw a flock of ten to fifteen nervous grouse between his kayak and the white bird. Afraid the needles would blow off his stem, Dalton put the paddle down, lay down as low as he could in the kayak, and reached out to grab hold of the aquatic plants and ease himself forward. After slowly closing the distance to 35 yards, he took the gun and shot the duck.
The Dalton blue-and-white-killed chicken is almost entirely white, with some brown-edged feathers, dark eyes, and regularly pigmented legs. His distinctive coloring comes from an inherited genetic abnormality called leucism. Although leucism and albinism can produce white animals, they are not the same thing. Albinism is caused by a lack of melanin, the substance that determines the color of skin, eyes and, in the case of birds, feathers. Albino animals also often suffer from poor eyesight, as melanin helps develop vision. Albinos often have pink eyes. Leucism, on the other hand, is caused by the reduction or absence of all skin pigments. It can result in large patches of white feathers on a regular-colored duck for a piebald appearance, or leucism can cause a duck to be completely white with brown-edged feathers, like Dalton’s bird.
Read further: A Pintail-Mallard Hybrid? Here’s what we know about duck hybridization
Leucistic ducks are quite rare. They don’t live long in the wild because they are often spotted, making them easy targets for predators and hunters. Also, researchers say that leucistic and albino birds have a hard time finding mates, making it difficult for them to pass their genes on to the next generation.
Dalton had never seen a leucistic duck before—and he’s seen a lot of ducks. While only 20 years old, he has been duck hunting since the age of seven. He has hunted across the United States and Canada. He plans to have famous waterfowl taxidermist Shane Smith set up his leucistic tea. The rest of Dalton’s freelance hunt was a success. He and his companions enjoyed good days at tea the next morning and with divers the following day, but of course, nothing they shot surpassed the rare whiting Dalton bagged that first afternoon.