Experts say this adult male bird is a “one in a million” find.
Charlie Stephenson wasn’t expecting to come across a biological wonder when she glanced out the window of her Alabama home last month. But there he was, an exceptionally rare yellow cardinal, gleaming amongst the usual birdfeeder crowd.
Even though she's been birding for decades, Stephenson told AL.com that it took her some time to figure out what she was seeing.
"I thought 'well there's a bird I've never seen before,'" Stephenson said. "Then I realized it was a cardinal, and it was a yellow cardinal."
And he keeps coming back. “Every time we've looked for him, he'll show up at least once that day," she added.
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"Every time I watch the bird feeder, I can see him," Stephenson told AL.com. "The cardinals in my back yard typically come in the morning and again in the evening and I can only bird-watch on weekends until the time changes, but on weekends, I'll sit there and watch for him.”
Stephenson, who lives in the Birmingham suburb of Alabaster, posted about the unique bird on Facebook, catching the eye of her friend Jeremy Black, a professional photographer. Last week, after five hours spent waiting, Black was able to photograph the one-of-a-kind fowl.
Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill told AL.com that the bird in question is an adult male in the same species as the common red cardinal, but he carries a genetic mutation that causes what would normally be bright red feathers to be a vibrant yellow instead.
"I've been bird watching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I've never seen a yellow bird in the wild," Hill said. "I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada. There are probably a million bird feeding stations in that area so very, very roughly, yellow cardinals are a one in a million mutation."