Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Once in a Lifetime Cardinal

Described as “a once-in-a-lifetime, one-in-a-million bird encounter,” 11 days ago on February 20, long-time birder and ornithologist Jamie Hill and his friend Annette Smith documented a Northern Cardinal – a remarkably ultra-rare and unusual cardinal! Known as a bilateral gynandromorph, it was a cardinal divided right down the middle as a half-male and half-female. The most obvious result in cardinals is that the plumage on one side is male red, and the other side is colored female tan – hard to believe without the resulting photos that illustrate this exciting bird so well.

Hill described the event and posted photos of the cardinal on Facebook the following day and explained that he heard about the bird from Annette, whose mother was a friend of the homeowner who periodically sighted the cardinal at her feeding station near Grand Valley, Pennsylvania. Jamie and Annette were able to contact her by telephone and she obliged to having them document the bird, although the homeowner requested to remain anonymous.

During Jamie and Annette’s 1-hour opportunity to see and photograph the ultra-rare cardinal, the bird only came to the feeders once, along with 5 other cardinals. Thankfully, it perched in the open briefly in 2 different trees, permitting Hill to take a series of photographs. He was obviously very excited about the opportunity and we appreciate him sharing his photo and story here, and on Facebook!

This unusual Northern Cardinal is exciting to hear about, and although they are ultra-rare, half-and-half birds probably have the potential of occurring among all species of birds; but birders and biologists are only likely to notice them in species in which adult males and females are distinctly colored.

James Hill III provides a great description of his observation, along with the biology and history behind the rare cardinal on his Facebook post at