It might look like a seagull fossicking in the undergrowth, but it’s a white weka captured on film deep in the Abel Tasman National Park.
The rare white bird was seen earlier this week by Department of Conservation ranger Fay McKenzie , who was back in the park beginning to check traplines again for the first time since lockdown.
The weka had white feathers with some slightly darker spots, an orange bill and legs, and dark eyes.
It was thought the bird had leucism, a condition similar to albinism, where animals lack pigmentation.
The condition causes pale, or patchy skin, hair, feathers or scales. It differs from albinism as it doesn’t affect an animal’s eyes, which are generally pink or red in albino individuals.
Project Janszoon ornithologist Ron Moorhouse said the genetic mutation that caused leucism or albinism was rare and seeing a white-coloured weka was a “once in a lifetime” event.
“You only see these kinds of things when a species or population is quite numerous because the chances of it happening are low, you need a lot of birds before you get these kinds of mutations coming together in the same individual.”
The bird must carry the gene from both parents to develop the condition.
Weka had all but disappeared from the Abel Tasman National Park in the 1980s and ’90s.
In 2006, the species was reintroduced at Totaranui using birds captured in the Marlborough Sounds.
Moorhouse said the appearance of a white bird showed there were a lot of weka in the Abel Tasman and he estimated the population was now in its thousands.