A north Otago farming couple could not believe what they were seeing when four white pukekos emerged last spring among the hundreds born on their property.
Highly unusual, two of the pukekos are virtually all white, while the other two have Dalmatian-like plumage.
The farm's owners, who did not want themselves or their property identified, to protect the pukekos, noticed them when they started to move around after hatching last spring.
"We could not believe what we were seeing.
"We'll do whatever we have to do to protect them," they said, fearing that if the birds' location was known, they could be shot by hunters or for trophies. It is legal to shoot pukekos.
If possible, the couple would like them moved to another area that is not so visible.
The couple are not sure if the white pukekos have come from the same clutch (nest) of eggs, because pukekos share raising chicks among the females in the family.
The white pukekos have been freely associating with their more familiar-looking relatives with their deep indigo plumage, white feathers under their tails, orange-red legs and scarlet bills.
The couple had never seen white pukekos before, despite having experience with the species.
Department of Conservation Otago conservancy acting area manager David Agnew had not seen white pukekos, although he understood they did occur.
"You do get different colours with a lot of bird species and animals now and then, but I think it's reasonably rare with pukekos," he said.
He presumed it had something to do with the genetic make-up of the parents, resulting in a throwback.
North Otago ranger Kevin Pearce planned to see the pukekos next week, hoping to get some feathers, which could be DNA tested to learn more.
While white pukekos had been recorded, he had not seen one in his 20 years with the department.