The cardinal is one of the most iconic birds of North America, immediately recognizable for their distinct crest and the bright red plumage on males.
But one extremely rare cardinal, recently spotted in Gainesville, Florida has a very different look: he’s bright yellow, a “one-in-a-million” occurrence.
The striking photos of the unique bird were taken by Karen Devens of Nature Queen Photography in a wooded area near the University of Florida campus.
The South Florida Wildlands Association shared the photos on Facebook, saying that the bird’s unusual looks were caused by a “one-in-a-million genetic mutation.”
To put in perspective how rare this is, there are about 15 million red cardinals in the eastern United States, according to USA Today, making them one of the most common birds in the region — but there are only an estimated 10-15 yellow ones.
It’s so rare that even local bird experts were stunned by the sight.
“I don’t know how many cardinals I have seen, maybe thousands,” Andy Kratter, the ornithology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told USA Today. “This is the first yellow cardinal I have seen.”
Mark Hostetler, professor in the Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation at the University of Florida, explained that the yellow plumage was “a rare genetic mutation, affecting fewer than one in a million,” caused by carotenoid pigments in the seeds and grains the cardinals eat, which are usually converted to a red color by an enzyme in their bodies.
But these unique cardinals lack that enzyme, resulting in a yellow color instead.
While it’s extraordinarily rare, it’s not the first time in recent years that a yellow cardinal has become a celebrity: a cardinal dubbed “Sunny” was spotted in 2019, also in Florida.
Wow, what a unique bird! We’ve definitely never seen a cardinal like this — what a beauty 💛
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