A nature photographer captured an incredibly rare shot this week when she snapped a photo of a yellow cardinal in Gainseville, Florida.
Karen Devens of Nature Queen Photography was exploring a wooded area of the University of Florida campus last month when she stumbled upon the beautiful bird.
She shared her find with the South Florida Wildlands Association, who posted the gorgeous photos on Facebook with the caption, “I’ve seen many cardinals in my life – but apparently not enough. Scientists believe this is a one-in-a-million genetic mutation.”
Northern cardinals are one of America’s most common birds and are even the state bird for seven states. While they can range in color from warm browns and muted reds (for females) to brilliant reds (for males), yellow Northern cardinals are extremely unusual. According to FOX35, experts estimate there are only 10-15 yellow cardinals in North America. The rare coloring is due to a mutation in the yellow cardinal that blocks the red pigment in most cardinals’ DNA and replaces it with the bright yellow.
There have been a few yellow cardinal sightings over the last few years, including in Port St. Lucie, Florida, in 2019 when a bird named Sunny was spotted in a photographer’s backyard.
Other sightings were reported in Alabama and Georgia in 2018.
Geoffrey Hill, a professor and curator of birds at Georgia’s Auburn University, told USA Today in 2019 that only three yellow cardinal sightings are reported a year.
“I’ve been bird-watching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild,” Hill told AL.com. “I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada. There are probably a million bird feeding stations in that area so very very roughly, yellow cardinals are a one-in-a-million mutation.”
Keep an eye out for one of these beautiful birds near you!