An albino sparrow, one of the rarest birds in the world, has made Sanctuary Lakes, Point Cook, in Melbourne’s south-west, its home.
Locals have named it their “little white angel”, and the 117 varieties of local bird life drawn to the site’s wetlands, salt-plains and gardens, have had to welcome this curious little outsider.
Bob Winters, Sanctuary Lakes resident and bird watching expert said he had spent painstaking hours sitting in wait to photograph the albino sparrow, which he thought was around seven or eight months old.
“It’s cute, it really is cute, this tiny white bird in amongst dark ugly sparrows, it’s certainly a white angel,” Mr Winters said.
But he warned other twitchers to steer clear. The locals, the sparrow’s self-appointed protectors, have kept its garden of choice a closely-guarded secret. They said the unique bird was vulnerable enough.
“It doesn’t really need to have hundreds of people bothering it, it would certainly be a good chance of tipping it over the edge,” Mr Winters said.
Mr Winters said the genetic mutation that left its feathers pure white, made it a marked bird. “Its genetic mutation is sort of unlucky for the bird really,” he said. “Its fragile feathers make it quite difficult to fly; often the parents will kick it out of the nest, but it will join in a flock.
“Probably no-one wants to breed with it, and it’s easy pickings for a bird of prey. “It only takes one enterprising falcon and he’ll have himself a very delicious, but very short, meal.”
Mr Winters said if this rare sparrow were left alone in the sanctuary of Point Cook, it could survive for a couple more months. “It’s really quite exciting because there’s really only been a handful of white birds ever recorded,” he said.
A search of Argus articles turned up a sighting in 1919 in Buckrabanyule, north west of Bendigo.
The contributor suggested sending the “rare white sparrow with pink eyes” to the Ballarat aviaries.
Of another sighting in East Camberwell in 1941, the writer described, “a pure white sparrow which has been knocking about with normally coloured birds for some time. It is a source of great interest to the residents.”
Mr Winters said these sightings could have also just been of sparrows with leucism, a similar condition, where the bird lacked melanin pigment, however its irises – unlike albinos – remained dark.
But this little white angel was a rare treat, Mr Winters said, and now the news is out, this little birdie could attract just as much attention as the variety the resident golfers here are more used to chasing.
Read more about Bob Winters on our Curriculum Writing Team page!
Article from the ABC.