A Rare Half Male, Half Female Cardinal Has Been Spotted in Pennsylvania

Jamie Hill via Facebook

There’s nothing more exciting for a bird watcher than to spot a truly unusual bird, so when long time bird watcher Jamie Hill heard that there were an extremely rare bird nearby, he knew he had to try to take its picture.

In a Facebook post, Hill share that he has been a bird watcher for 48 years. When he heard that a friend “had an unusual bird coming to her feeders,” he wanted to know more. The woman thought that the bird she saw was a combination of two different kinds of birds. She described it as a red cardinal with “some white on its breast.”

At first, Hill thought that the white features she described might mean that the bird had “some albinistic feathering.” The woman sent him a text with a picture of the bird that she took with her phone through a window. It wasn’t the best quality photo, but it was enough for Hill to know what kind of bird he was looking at.

The bird did not have albinistic feathering as he first thought. It was also not two different types of birds as the homeowner first thought. It was a cardinal, but it was half-male and half-female.

It’s not always easy to tell if a bird is male or female at first glance, but it is fairly easy when it comes to cardinals. Male cardinals have red feathers. Female cardinals have mostly brownish feathers. This rare half-male half-female cardinal was red one of the right side like a male cardinal and brown on the left side like a female cardinal.

You might assume that the bird would actually be male or female but just with unusual coloring, but no, that’s not the case. The bird would actually have one functioning ovary on the female side and one functioning testicle on the male side making it male and female at the same time. Hill explained, “Theoretically, this bird could either mate with a normal male cardinal and lay fertile eggs, or it could mate with a normal female cardinal and father her eggs!”

Hill shared that another rare cardinal with the same coloring as this one was seen not too far away in Erie, Pennsylvania. When that bird was photographed in 2019, its photos made it into the New York Times and National Geographic. He emphasized, “That’s how rare and interesting this condition is.”

Hill thinks it’s possible that the cardinal he photographed is the same cardinal that was spotted in Erie, but it’s also possible that it’s a different cardinal with the same rare condition, being a bilateral gynandromorph which is also called a “half-sider.”

Have you ever seen an unusual bird? Did you know that it was possible (yet extremely rare) for birds to be half-male and half-female?