Super-Rare Yellow Cardinal Spotted in Alabama Is 'One-in-a-Million' Discovery

Monday, 26 February 2018 - 11:58AM
Monday, 26 February 2018 - 11:58AM
Super-Rare Yellow Cardinal Spotted in Alabama Is 'One-in-a-Million' Discovery
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Image credit: YouTube

No need to adjust or recalibrate your devices—the bird on your screen is real, and it is yellow. According to National Geographic, a seasonal birdwatcher in Alabama named Charlie Stephenson was looking out at her backyard one morning when she noticed a brightly colored bird checking out her feeder. Stephenson shared a photo of the bird to Facebook and learned that it was a male northern cardinal with a genetic mutation that made it "one in a million."

Stephenson called a photographer friend to come take a few shots of the bird, and after hours of searching for it with a camera and binoculars, the rare visitor decided to share its brilliance and landed next door for its closeup.


"As soon as it landed, I was starstruck," said photographer Jeremy Black, who initially thought Stephenson's image of the bird was Photoshopped. "It kind of took my breath away a little bit."

The National Audubon Society explains that wild songbirds like northern cardinals get their pigment from carotenoids in their food. The carotenoids produce a yellow pigment, but some birds can transform them into red.


Experts say that Stephenson's cardinal is yellow because of a gene that is blocking the bird's ability to perform that transformation. While the coloration is beautiful, it may also be tragic. Audubon's Christmas Bird Count director Geoff LeBaron says that the bird's crest and its feathers show signs of wear, which may point to an illness that is also responsible for its color.


"Time will tell with this bird," said LeBaron, suggesting that if the bird returns and is still yellow next winter, then we can all breathe a sigh of relief and put all of our chips on mutation, not sickness.

For now, let's just bask in the glory of this rare and majestic creature. It's almost enough to make us put down our phones and pick up a pair of binoculars...almost.

Science News