You don’t have to be a bird specialist to recognize the difference between male and female cardinals; their morphological differences are typically obvious.
Males have vivid crimson plumage, while females have a more muted brownish yellow coloration.
The universe of cardinals, it turns out, isn’t only restricted to these two categories. Shirley Caldwell can attest to this.
Caldwell and her husband saw a new visitor to their Pennsylvania backyard a few weeks ago. It was unmistakably a cardinal, but one who appeared to defy classification and tradition.
Caldwell told The Dodo, “There was something abnormal about it.” “This past Saturday, we finally got a decent look at it, and I was able to get some shots.”
The coat of this tiny cardinal was split.
The male half of the bird looked to be male, while the female half appeared to be female.
“When I saw it, I thought, ‘Holy cow!’” Caldwell recalled something.
Caldwell is a serious birdwatcher who has done her study. She was able to identify the odd visitor as a “bilateral gynandromorph” — an organism with split-sex features, making the cardinal basically both male and female based on her previous studies.
Insects, crabs, and birds have all been shown to exhibit the phenomenon. Here’s how it happens in the early stages of development as a result of an egg with two nuclei.
Caldwell’s images were authenticated by Daniel Hooper of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, who confirmed the finding.
Hooper told NatGeo, “This extraordinary bird is a real male/female chimera.”
Because certain split-sex bodies are difficult to see, it’s unclear how often this happens in animals capable of gynandromorphism. It’s not easy to overlook, though, given cardinals’ sexual dimorphism.
Fortunately, the bird that has been visiting Caldwell’s yard hasn’t appeared to mind being a little unusual.
“It appears to be in good health. It appears to be at a healthy weight and is eating properly “Caldwell explained. “It does, however, travel with a male partner. Only nature will be able to tell if they will be able to reproduce. I’m hope they stick around for a little longer.”