While worrying and writing about a pair of bluebirds nesting in a box in my own backyard, I had the opportunity to visit the Carolina Wildlife Center in Columbia and meet an albino bluebird by the name of Pearl.
The center is a nonprofit organization that rehabilitates injured and orphaned wildlife. Hundreds of animals – squirrels, birds, possums, turtles, snakes, owls – are cared for there and most are eventually released back into the wild.
Pearl – the soft color of a pearl – is an exception.
“She was found on the ground mid-summer last year,” said the center’s executive director, Jay Coles. “The albinism often has other side effects and in this bird they are limited flight and sight.”
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In other words, Pearl doesn’t see well and she doesn’t fly well. So she lives at the center.
“Pearl also has a malformed beak and would not have survived in the wild,” Jay said. “If she were trying to get a worm out of a hole, that beak would be an issue. Here, she’s got room service. She gets a mix of fruit, mealworms, grain and seeds.”
Jay said another issue with albino animals is “they are often shunned by others of the same species.”
So, Pearl would likely never have found a mate or become a mother, but that doesn’t mean she hasn’t found an important role in her life.
This fall, Pearl will be taken into local schools in a special traveling carrier.
Because she is a wild bird, it was necessary for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to issue a permit allowing her to work in the schools.
“Pearl was permitted in March,” Jay said. “She’s got more official papers than I do.”
Pearl and her handler will teach students about genetics, recessive gene disorders and how those things affect animals in the natural world.
“Pearl,” Jay said, “will go out and be part of that conversation.”
Want to help the Carolina Wildlife Center?
The Carolina Wildlife Center accepts donations of money, materials and other needs.
Log on at http://carolinawildlife.org/donate/ for a list.
The center is at 5551 Bush River Road.