An avid bird watcher saw quite the rare sight in her backyard last January when she spotted a yellow Northern Cardinal. Why makes the yellow Northern Cardinal so rare?
Yellow Bird Spotted In Alabama
In the final days of January, bird watcher Charlie Stephenson saw a strange yellow bird perched on her bird feeder in her Alabaster, Alabama backyard. She had seen many Cardinals before, but this one had striking yellow feathers instead of bright red, so she took a photo and posted it on Facebook.
Soon, a photographer friend of hers, Jeremy Black, came over in hopes of photographing the rare bird although he had initially thought the photo to have been Photoshopped. After hours of waiting, Black finally got an incredible photo of the one-in-a-million bird.
The yellow bird continued visiting Stephenson's backyard in the days that followed.
Why Is It Yellow?
Normally, Northern Cardinals are ruby-red in color, and such songbirds get their coloration from the food that they eat. According to Geoffrey Hill, ornithologist and coloration expert from Auburn University, it is entirely possible that the bird had a genetic mutation that makes the pigments yellow instead of red.
On the other hand, Geoff LeBaron of the National Audubon Society also mentioned that the bird's crest and wing feathers looked quite ruffled, suggesting perhaps that the bird has health issues as a result of stress and poor diet. If that is the case, then perhaps the bird's condition is affecting the way its coloration is manifested.
Overall, the experts believe that the likelier theory to explain the bird's coloration is genetic mutation. In order to find out, they will have to wait for next winter. If its feathers remain yellow, then its DNA is the likely culprit for the unique coloration, but if it somehow turns red, then perhaps it has recovered from its health issues.
The Northern Cardinal's Tricks
This isn't the first time that the Northern Cardinal shocked its audiences. A few years back, biology professor Brian Peer and a friend of his, retired biology teacher Bob Motz, were simply drinking coffee together when they spotted a two-colored Northern Cardinal wherein the right side looked female with brown feathers, while the left side looked male with bright red feathers.
For the 40 days that they observed the bird, they never heard it vocalize, and it never paired with other cardinals. Evidently, the rare bird was a bilateral gynandromorph, a type of hermaphroditism that means that the bird is actually half male and half female.