Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Whipper defies 'expiry' date

He has defied predictions of an early death, has his own website and is possibly Winton's most internationally famous resident.

And it may all be a result of in-breeding.

Whipper the "feather duster" budgie rose to international attention after he featured in The Southland Times in April.

His story was told in newspapers around the world.

Not bad for a budgie rejected by his parents because of his unusual looks.

Whipper and his unruly feathered looks are the result of a genetic mutation, probably caused by the in-breeding of show budgies in the 1960s.

Owner Julie Hayward rescued and hand-reared Whipper after he was thrown out of his nest as a baby by his parents. Genetic mutants, which couldn't fly, usually died soon after birth or were killed by their parents, she said.

Indeed, an Auckland vet called to warn Ms Hayward that Whipper would not live more than six months. Yet he celebrated his first birthday on December 11 and Ms Hayward said he is enjoying good health.

Whipper promoter Gillian McFarlane has a bundle of clippings from overseas newspapers that picked up on the story of the mutant budgie.

Southland was not making the most of the bird, she said. He was a valuable marketing opportunity with the ability to attract international tourists.

Just two weeks ago an American couple on holiday went into her Winton business, where Whipper had been displayed earlier in the year.

They told her they were planning their trip to New Zealand in April when they saw Whipper on television and decided to include Winton in their itinerary.

The bird was a natural, who handled his public profile with aplomb, she said.

"He was born for it," she said.

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