Saturday, December 19, 2009

Return of the yellow cardinal

Last January, Tom Ruggles of Zanesville sent photos of a very interesting Northern Cardinal. A jaw-dropper, actually. I posted photos of the bird HERE, along with an explanation of why the bird would be yellow rather than its normal coat of crimson.

Well, Tom's odd bird has returned, and he just sent along these photos. This "yellowbird" would certainly catch one's eye!

While on hiatus wherever it is that yellow cardinals from Muskingum County go, the bird seems to have become even yellower. This is a very cool effect! I'm thinking we should dye more cardinals this color.

The yellowish coloration apparently results from an imbalance of carotenoids, a condition known as xanthochroism. Apparently more normally dominant pigments are suppressed, allowing less dominant pigments to shine through.

As birds uptake carotenoids through food that they eat, it may be that fruit - probably from some non-native shrub - has caused the shift in this cardinal's coloration.

Prong-billed Barbet, Bosque de Paz Reserve, Costa Rica.
When Tom sent the photos this time, and I looked at that last photo posted above of the cardinal, I was instantly remined of another bird, the Prong-billed Barbet, Semnornis frantzii, which has a rather limited range in Costa Rica and western Panama. The barbet, like cardinals in the winter, also eats lots of fruit, and its greenish-yellow tints match Tom's yellow cardinal rather well.

Thanks for sharing the photos, Tom, and I'm glad your bird has returned once again!


Tricia said...

Wow, is there any way of knowing what the gender of this bird is?

Priscilla said...

I showed the pics of this amazing bird to my husband, who said, "Maybe the bird's just colorblind."

Anyway, thanks for the treat!

OpposableChums said...

Amazing. And gorgeous!

Jim McCormac said...

It's a male, Tricia - nice black mask around the bill, and I'm not sure a female would have enough underlying yellowish pigment to produce this effect.


Cindy Sue Causey said...

Thank you *so much* for having this out here for confirmation of something I saw.. A couple weeks ago, a flash of yellow landed in a tree nearby.. First thought was it was *too* early for any Goldfinches to be that color.. I was right..!

The couple of pics I could grab aren't great, sure don't do the bird justice for how yellow it was.. By the way, looking at what you have here, I'd say the one here may have been a female.. The mask lacking was one thing that was helping throw off my initial ID..

Anyway, thanks again.. Tickled your post was here to confirm in *my* Mind I saw what I thunk I saw = a very yellow red bird.. Am kvelling..! :))

PS.. Off to share your link over at Cornell's We Love Birds..! :D

Jim McCormac said...

Glad this post was helpful, Cindy! You're lucky to get to see such an anomaly as a xanthochroic cardinal!