I did a double take this morning when I spotted the picture of the half ‘n’ half cardinal, above. Bizarre, isn’t it? As the Huffington Post article explains, this northwestern Illinois bird, first seen in 2008, has what biologists call bilateral gynandromorphism. It is essentially half male (the red side) and half female because its sex chromosomes didn’t segregate properly after fertilization. And unlike normal cardinals, this bird was never heard singing nor seen pairing up with another cardinal.
Another such cardinal was reported and photographed in Dallas, Texas, three years ago. Like the Illinois bird, that cardinal did not sing and never took a mate. In 2011 it was chased from the area by other territorial males, but it survived and returned two years later.
These two birds, interesting as they are to look at, sadden me. They must have led uncharacteristically lonely lives. And it’s hard to imagine any cardinal alone and never singing.
Cardinals have long been my favorite songbird. Through most of my life, wherever I lived, there have been cardinals — usually in pairs and nesting right outside my door. Their bright color, cheery song, and year round presence were always a part of “home.” Then I moved to Colorado and as much as I love it, there are no cardinals here. It’s almost like the one thing the state needs to be perfect.
This is the Dallas cardinal. For many more images, see Larry P. Amman’s gallery.