The cardinal is one of North America’s most identifiable birds, with its distinctive crest and vivid red plumage on males.
However, one exceptionally unusual cardinal observed lately in Gainesville, Florida has a radically different appearance: he’s brilliant yellow, a “one-in-a-million” occurrence.
Karen Devens of Nature Queen Photography captured the amazing images of the unusual bird in a forested area near the University of Florida campus.
The photographs were released on Facebook by the South Florida Wildlands Association, who said that the bird’s odd appearance was caused by a “one-in-a-million genetic abnormality.”
To put this in context, there are over 15 million red cardinals in the eastern United States, making them one of the most frequent birds in the region, but only an estimated 10-15 yellow cardinals.
It’s so unusual that even local bird specialists were taken aback by the sight.
“I don’t know how many cardinals I’ve seen, maybe hundreds,” said Andy Kratter, ornithology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History. “This is the first time I’ve seen a yellow cardinal.”
The yellow plumage was generated by carotenoid pigments in the seeds and grains the cardinals eat, which are normally transformed to a red hue by an enzyme in their body, according to Mark Hostetler, professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation at the University of Florida.
However, these particular cardinals lack that enzyme, resulting in a yellow hue.
While it’s extremely unusual, this isn’t the first time a yellow cardinal has been famous in recent years: a cardinal called “Sunny” was sighted in Florida in 2019.
What a one-of-a-kind bird! We’ve never seen a cardinal like this before – such a beauty!