Rare Half Male, Half Female Cardinal Spotted in Pennsylvania

A birdwatcher in Pennsylvania confirms a sighting of a half male half female cardinal. Learn more about this rare bird discovery.

HalfmalehalffemalecardinalVia Jamie Hill
Rare half male, half female Northern cardinal

Half Male Half Female Cardinal

An avid birdwatcher in Pennsylvania, reported a very rare bird sighting—a Northern cardinal that is half male and half female.

“I have been birding for 48 years and yesterday (20 February 2021) I had a once-in-a-lifetime, one in a million bird encounter!” James Hill shared on Facebook.

Hill learned about the bird from a friend of the homeowner where it was spotted. The homeowner noticed an unusual looking cardinal at her feeders near Grand Valley, Pennsylvania. After seeing her cell phone photo of the cardinal, he determined it was not an albino or leucistic bird, but rather a bilateral gynandromorph. The bird is divided right down the middle, a half male half female cardinal. Genetically, the left side is biologically female, while the right side is biologically male.

female cardinal birdCourtesy Janine Martin
A typical female cardinal 

Male cardinals typically have bright red feathers with a black face mask and a spiked crest, while female cardinals are more subdued and brownish. Rare genetic variations called xanthochroism can cause male cardinals to be yellow instead of the familiar red.

Hill asked the homeowner for permission to visit and photograph the bird. “During our 1-hour stay, the bird came to the feeders only once (with 5 other cardinals), but thankfully it perched out in the open briefly in two other trees and I was able to shoot about 50 images,” he wrote on Facebook.

Another half male, half female cardinal was spotted outside of Erie in 2019.

“Could this bird be the same individual as the Erie, Pennsylvania, bird? Possibly — their bird was female on the left and male on the right, too,” Hill wrote.

Learn 6 proven ways to attract cardinals.

What to Do if You Spot a Rare Bird

Birds sometimes wander outside their normal ranges. If you identify such a stray, or a rare bird like the half male half female cardinal, at your favorite birding spot or feeder, here’s what you should do:

  • Consider whether you should share the sighting. If the bird is truly rare, hundreds of birders may want to see it. That’s fine if it’s a public park, but could be a problem if it’s a feeder outside your bedroom window.
  • If you decide to report the sighting, confirm the ID with good photos and share them with a local expert. Check with the National Audubon Society for nearby chapters or centers. Or, contact the American Birding Association.

Next, check out more interesting facts about cardinals and simply stunning photos of Northern cardinals.

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Lori Vanover
Lori Vanover is the senior digital editor for Birds & Blooms. She has a bachelor's degree in agricultural and environmental communications from the University of Illinois. Lori enjoys growing vegetables and flowers for pollinators in her backyard gardens. She also is an avid bird-watcher.