Strange white magpie photos send social media into a frenzy: 'Amazing'

Two rare white and brown magpies have unexpectedly flown into a NSW retirement village, delighting residents.

This excitement spread after images of the birds were shared on Facebook, attracting over 3000 likes and 200 comments.

"Amazing, what a treat to have this morning," responded one social media user.

"Wow! That's awesome," another person wrote.

Two images of brown and white magpies.
A pair of leucistic magpies were photographed at Lake Macquarie, NSW. Source: Sharon Johnson

Other comments highlighted that people found the magpies "very unusual" or "extremely rare".

"That's awesome! Have never seen them before," another person added.

Despite the excitement, access to social media has seen reports of unusual birds flourish.

Most common are birds with a genetic abnormality called leucism, which causes reduced pigmentation, turning their feathers white.

Recent sightings have included a spotted magpie in Perth and white kookaburras near Wollongong, NSW.

Birdlife Australia’s Sean Dooley said it’s actually “surprising” how often bird lovers send him photographs of affected birds.

“People will be emailing me shots of them, whether they're leucistic or melanistic, or some other sort of colour variant,” he said.

“Certainly, magpies seem to be the ones we get notified about most often.”

Retirees excited by white magpies

The most recent sighting of leucistic magpies was documented by Lake Macquarie woman Sharyn Johnson.

Speaking with Yahoo News Australia she described being overcome with “excitement” after her husband spotted them in their backyard.

A stock image of a black and white magpie.
Australian magpies usually have black and white plumage. Source: Getty

While she’s grown fond of a black and white pair that regularly visit her yard, the strange visitors came as a surprise.

“They weren’t terribly afraid and seem to be used to human contact,” she said.

“I took the photos from my kitchen window, looking down on them.”

Why are white magpies becoming more common?

While the magpies only stayed in her yard for 10 minutes, she hopes the abundance of plants in her backyard will bring them back.

One study suggests just one in 30,000 wild birds are living with either leucism or albinism.

A white magpie and a spotted magpie seen in seperate images.
White magpies and a spotted magpie have been photographed in Perth's suburbs. Source: Harry Harrison

While both conditions can be caused by a genetic mutation, leucism can also be triggered by nutritional deficiencies and environmental factors.

Mr Dooley believes the reason leucistic magpies are being documented more frequently than other birds could be due to several factors.

With research in this genetic mutation lacking, he’s been left to speculate as to what’s behind these occurrences.

One theory is that magpies are cooperative within their family units and territorial, enabling them to protect white birds that would otherwise be attacked.

Another possibility is that people notice white magpies more often because they are familiar with their regular plumage patterns.

“With other species, even common ones, people wouldn't necessarily recognise that it's an aberrant plumage,” he said.

“They're very familiar with them and magpies aren't shy.”

Another feasible reason could be that magpies are more susceptible to leucism than other species.

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