Are leucistic birds ostracised from the flock? Readers’ nature queries

Ethna Viney on a funny fungus, poisonous mushrooms and house butterflies

We have lots of sparrows coming to our bird table, and recently my husband spotted one with a white head. Will this bird be ostracised or be able to breed like the others? – Ann Mangan, Dungarvan, Co Waterford
Sometimes a leucistic bird is driven away, but yours seems to be part of the flock. It will be able to mate, and the genetic mutation may be passed on to progeny.

I saw this most beautiful little leucistic chaffinch in my garden that was fascinating to watch. How common are they? – Lelia McHale, Knockmore, Co Mayo
Leucistic chaffinch are not common but are indeed beautiful. Leucism is a genetic mutation that prevents melanin (which gives colour) from being deposited normally on feathers, but it is present in other parts of the body.

This beautiful winter visitor, a great egret, is wintering in Baltimore. It seems happy with a flotilla of ducks and a watchful heron. – Richard Marten, Baltimore, Co Cork
The great white egret is regular visitor to the south coast in late spring and summer, but occasionally it now overwinters here.

This fungus appears sometimes in the garden. In the soil it has thin, white roots that stick to wood. What is it and is it poisonous? – Richard Knatchbull, Bray, Co Wicklow
It's red cage fungus, related to the stinkhorn family. I would not recommend eating it.


We found these growing on the verge opposite our house. They are proper, picture-book toadstools. – Ed Armitage, Douglas, Co Cork
Fly agaric, Amanita muscaria, is a well-known poisonous mushroom. It is associated usually with birch, spruce and oak trees.

Sometimes on bright mornings, butterflies come alive and fly around my house. Should I leave them in the house or put them out? Will they survive outside in the winter? – Sheelagh Coyle, Mountmellick, Co Laois
Don't put them out unless you put them in a shelter such as a shed.

Ethna Viney welcomes observations and photographs at Thallabawn, Louisburgh, Co Mayo, F28 F978, or by email at Include a postal address