Photographer Reunites With Rare White Loon After Years of Searching

A white bird with a black and white checkered pattern on its back, resembling a loon, swims peacefully in calm greenish water. The bird has a sleek, elegant appearance with a pale head and neck. The background is blurred, emphasizing the bird.

Canadian photographer Chris Whitty captured a rare white loon after spending years searching for it.

The white loon is leucistic, similar to an animal with albinism, but less extreme. Albinism prevents an animal from producing melanin while leucism is a “partial loss of all types of pigmentation,” making it appear white or lighter in color or splotchy in parts, as the National Park Service explains.

A loon with striking black and white plumage swims gracefully on the calm surface of a lake. Its red eyes and sharp beak are clearly visible, reflecting in the tranquil water. The background is blurred with hints of greenery, emphasizing the bird’s serene environment.

Three loons are swimming on a calm, greenish body of water. Two loons in the background have black and white plumage, while the loon in the foreground has predominantly white plumage. The background is blurred, drawing attention to the birds.

A loon is calmly floating on peaceful water. The bird has a sleek, smooth head with a pointed beak and striking red eyes. Its feathers display a mix of white and grey, providing a contrast against the water's surface.

Only one in 30,000 birds is leucistic, Dale Gentry, the director of conservation for Audubon Upper Mississippi River, tells CBS News.

“It’s much more common for birds to have little patches of white feathers,” Gentry told the publication. “But for the entire bird to be in sort of leucistic plumage is less common.”

A loon with a speckled gray and white feather pattern, dark head, and a sharp, black beak swims in calm water reflecting white specks of light.

A loon with a striking black and white plumage spreads its wings while floating on calm water. The bird's head is turned slightly upward, and droplets of water can be seen around it, indicating recent movement. The background is softly blurred with natural colors.

A solitary loon with a light gray head and dark beak swims on calm water, its body partially submerged in the greenish reflection of its surroundings. The ripples gently distort the reflection, enhancing the serene scene.

A loon skimming across the surface of a calm lake with outstretched wings, creating splashes in the water. The background is blurred, highlighting the bird's motion and the serene environment.

Whitty, who lives in interior British Columbia in western Canada, first spotted a white loon several years back. After unsuccessful annual searches in the years since, he was lucky enough to come across a leucistic loon again.

Fortunately, Whitty, a talented amateur photographer, was also able to capture photo evidence. Whitty used a Canon 5D Mark IV with an EF 100-400L II telephoto zoom lens a 1.4x teleconverter.

Four common loons are swimming in a calm water body. Three of the loons have black heads, white necks with black bands, and spotted black-and-white backs. The fourth loon is predominantly white with subtle gray tones. The background features blurred reeds.

A white loon skims the surface of a calm body of water with its wings spread wide, creating small splashes as it moves along. The background features a blurred, natural shoreline.

A loon with a sleek grey and white feather pattern floats on calm water, creating a mirror-like reflection. The background is blurred in muted brown and green hues, emphasizing the bird's serene presence.

He hasn’t seen the bird since, but Whitty’s photographs show the striking difference of the white loon against its dark-feathered friends. In the water, the loon captivates. And thanks to his telephoto lens, Whitty’s photos show the bird in spectacular detail.

Whitty told CBS News that he was out taking pictures of the beautiful leucistic loon for at least an hour.

“What I like to do is I paddle slowly and quietly and get in the angle for the light and then just stop and then just watch, and they just tolerated me for quite a while,” the photographer says.

Two loons swim on a calm water surface. The loon in the foreground has a checkerboard black-and-white pattern with a white head and neck, while the background loon is more blurred, displaying typical black and white markings. The water reflects both birds.

A Pacific Loon with a striking black and white checkered back, white underparts, and a distinctive gray head glides smoothly on calm waters, creating subtle, mirrored reflections on the surface. A blurred, earthen background highlights the bird.

A loon with a speckled gray and white body and a white face floats calmly on a reflective water surface. The bird's dark eyes and dark bill stand out against its light-colored head.

A loon spreads its wings while floating on a calm body of water. The background shows blurred reeds and foliage. The bird's white plumage and dark beak are highlighted against the serene water. Its wings are partially raised, showcasing intricate feather details.

“I went out to the same lake, at the same time, for nine more days straight… and nothing. And haven’t seen it since,” Whitty told Fox News in an email. “I am not a bird expert by any means, but my guess on the pattern is that I have seen this bird as it makes its way to somewhere it actually lives/nests, and my run-ins were stopovers along the journey.”

To help protect the bird and its habitat, Whitty is keeping its location under wraps, although he jokes that even if people knew where it was, they probably wouldn’t be able to find it. As wildlife photographers know all too well, when you’re determined to photograph something very specific, it feels like you’ll never see it.

Image credits: Photographs by Chris Whitty