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Last Updated: Monday, 27 November 2006, 19:41 GMT
Rare white bearded tit spotted
Bearded white tit - image supplied by John Wright
Wildlife experts think the bird could be one-in-a-million
Wildlife experts have been surprised by the sighting of what they said was a "mysterious" white bird at a nature reserve in north Lancashire.

The rare white bearded tit was spotted in reeds at RSPB Leighton Moss in Silverdale by a member of the public.

The bird is not a true albino, having colour in its eyes and beak, but it could be one-in-a-million, said a Leighton Moss spokesperson.

The reserve is famous for its special birds, especially breeding bitterns.

John Wright, who was visiting the Silverdale nature reserve, spotted the sparrow-sized white bird, photographed it and sent the picture to RSPB wardens.

'Reed bed ghost'

Bearded tits are rare in the UK and wardens believe that it this is the first time a white one has been photographed.

"Bearded tits are elusive birds at the best of times and because they spend all their lives living in dense reed beds," said Jen Walker from the RSPB Leighton Moss reserve.

"They have been called the spirits of the reeds because they spend virtually all of their lives in this important habitat, but this bird is more like Leighton Moss's very own reed bed ghost," she continued.

Bearded tits are normally brown and black and the males have "moustaches" and grey heads.

Albinism is caused by gene mutations that affect the production of pigmentation. True albino animals lack melanin and are white with no markings and with unpigmented pink eyes.

With less than 500 pairs in the UK, bearded tits are one of the country's rarest birds and a target for special conservation effort by the RSPB.

Around 30 pairs of bearded tits nested at Leighton Moss in 2006 and raised almost 80 young.

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