Rare bird stands out from the flock

BY JEFF NEEMS
Last updated 10:08 03/05/2010
birds normal
Photo: DOUG CROWTHER
BIRDS OF A FEATHER: The albino sparrow among its normal brown feathered friends photographed by Doug Crowther.
snow white
Photo: DOUG CROWTHER
SNOW WHITE: The white bird could prove attractive to predators.

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It's white and it's rare but an albino sparrow's striking snow-white plumage means even its feathered friends might not know whether their unusual mate is a boy or a girl.

North Waikato amateur photographer Doug Crowther snapped a series of pictures of a rare white sparrow in recent months, having first spotted it in January after it fledged.

Mr Crowther asked for the bird's whereabouts to be kept confidential, but said it appeared to be residing in the area.

He has dubbed the bird Powder Puff and said it appeared to have been accepted by other sparrows.

He is unsure of the bird's gender: "You can tell a male and female sparrow apart when they're `normal', but when it's white – well, there's no way of knowing."

Hamilton Zoo director Dr Stephen Standley said albinism "does crop up in more or less any species, but it is infrequent".

He could not say how common albino birds were, but described them as "very unusual".

Mr Standley said albinism was the result of a "sex-link gene", and only occurred when a male and female of a species which both carried the gene mated.

If an albino animal bred with a normal animal, it would pass on the gene, but its offspring would not necessarily be albino.

"It's not very often that two (gene) carriers will breed, and produce an albino," he said.

Mr Standley said albino animals were usually accepted by their own species.

But despite the friendship of his own kind, life could still prove difficult for Powder Puff.

Because albino animals stand out from the rest of their species population, they are prone to being attacked or killed by predators, Mr Standley said.

Albino animals often had a very short life span as a result.

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- Waikato Times

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