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Rare white magpie sighting thrills Aussie man: 'Made my week'

While Rob was thrilled to see the rare bird, he was concerned it didn't seem afraid of humans.

A strangely-coloured magpie has thrilled a Perth man who stumbled across the bird at work.

After snapping images of the unusual magpie, 53-year-old Rob Mullen uploaded one to Facebook, where it went viral. More than 5,000 people reacted to the image, and hundreds posted comments to express their delight.

“It made my week, you don’t get to see stuff like that all the time,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

A white magpie on a path by a river, with grass in the background.
The rare white magpie was spotted just an hour outside of Perth. Source: Rob Mullen

While many might assume the magpie’s white colouring was triggered by an albino mutation, closer inspection reveals that’s not the case. Because it has flecks of black, and brown rather than red eyes, it’s likely a leucitic bird where the animal has reduced pigmentation.

How rare are white magpies?

Yahoo is aware of just one other colony of leucitic magpies near Perth, as well as another in NSW. One study suggests just one in 30,000 wild birds are living with either leucism or albinism, the former of which can be caused by genetic mutations, nutritional deficiencies and environmental factors.

Because of its rarity, Yahoo has chosen not to reveal its location. Particularly because Rob noticed it didn’t seem to be afraid of humans.

“It was looking for a feed, I think it might be used to people which is a worry,” he said.

Rob (left) with a long beard and Holden cap. The magpie (right) in a tree.
Rob watched the magpie for around 15 minutes. Source: Rob Mullen

Mutations are common but they generally don't last

There appears to be some anecdotal evidence that white-coloured birds have better survival rates in the suburbs. One reason for this could be there are less predators.

Last year, Professor Ary Hoffmann from the University of Melbourne told Yahoo mutations on the whole are a relatively common occurrence, but they are usually selected against.

“If you're hiding, and you’re a grasshopper, and you're in a green patch, and your mutation turns you orange, you become more visible to the predator, and you're going to die more quickly,” he said.

“So most mutations are actually what we call detrimental… (and) colour changes (are) very rapidly selected out of a population.”

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