April 21, 2021

Eagle-Eyed Photographer Had A Very Rare Encounter With The Adorable White Tauhou

A Wellington photographer out for her daily lockdown walk has seen an extremely rare bird.

In Kelburn, very near the CBD, photographer Holly Neill captured a white tauhou (waxeye) – a leucistic bird with just pure white and bright yellow feathers.

Neill said less traffic and noise due to the nationwide coronavirus lockdown might mean the birds are exploring further than they used to.

“It is amazing to see a leucistic tauhou that seemed to be an adult bird because often leucistic birds are preyed upon more easily since they stand out so much.”

Holly Neill

“Kia ora! Today I had one of the most exciting native bird encounters I’ve ever had, and thankfully I had my camera on me! With the whole country in a lockdown because of COVID-19, I’ve been going for short early morning walks around the block each day and have treating them as my ‘commute’ to work, which is now in my lounge.” – explained Holly Neill on his website. “Last week, I spotted what I thought was a leucistic tauhou (waxeye) from a distance, but I didn’t have my camera on me so I couldn’t be 100% sure. I did wonder for a moment if it was a rogue canary, trying to assimilate with wild native birds which would have been a bold move. Since that first sighting, I’ve been carrying my camera on each walk just in case I spot that gloriously rare bird again. Today, I got super lucky!”

Holly Neill

Neill said going on daily walks on the exact same route each day, she’s been paying close attention to the birds she sees along the way.

“I’ve been spending a lot more time in the garden than usual too, like most people, and had an awesome day last week where I saw tūī, kākā, kereru, pīwakawaka, riroriro, tauhou and a ruru in one day.”

Zealandia has already said the native birds in their sanctuary are becoming more curious during the lockdown.

Fantails have been spotted playing in the city’s abandoned Lambton Quay, and Zealandia rangers spotted a kārearea (New Zealand falcon) unusually hunting near the sanctuary’s entrance.

Holly Neill

Zealandia conservation manager Dr Danielle Shanahan said Neill’s bird was a “very rare sighting”.

“What a beautiful bird … I have never been lucky enough to see one and certainly have never heard reports of them at Zealandia.”

Neill said all the backyard trapping around Wellington must be making an impact to help such a brightly colored bird make it to adulthood.

She was only 500 meters from her house when she took the photos of the white tauhou.

“Self-isolating and social distancing during a lockdown doesn’t mean we have to miss out on the wonders that our gardens and backyards have to show us.”

Holly Neill

Leucism, or leukism, is an abnormal plumage condition caused by a genetic mutation. It prevents pigment on a bird’s feathers.

In 2017, a photographer in Whangarei spotted a rare white piwakawaka(fantail) with leucism.

A usual waxeye, or silvereye, is dark grey and green with a distinct white ring around its eye.

The small and friendly, not threatened bird species self-introduced itself to New Zealand forests in the 1800s, and now has a wide distribution throughout the country.

Holly Neill