Yellow cardinal still visiting Florida backyard

yellow cardinal
A yellow male Northern Cardinal at a bird feeder in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Photo by Tracy Workman

A yellow-instead-of-red male Northern Cardinal first spotted in a southeast Florida backyard in early October is still hanging around its neighborhood, according to the homeowner who first spotted the bird.

Tracy Workman, who teaches photography, drama, and other subjects to homeschool students, and her husband saw the stunning bird on October 3 in their Port St. Lucie yard. Tracy was able to take photos of it several days later.

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She posted her photos on the Florida Birds and Wildlife Facebook page. “The post went crazy with comments and responses almost immediately,” she writes.

A flurry of news reports followed, and Workman set up a Facebook page dedicated to the bird, which she dubbed “Sunny.” Now, in mid-November, Workman says the bird continues to visit her yard, and she has taken many photos of Sunny, including on a tube feeder. Perhaps he’s there to stay. (Many thanks to Workman for permission to use her photos with this story.)

“Sunny,” the yellow cardinal in a Florida backyard. Photo by Tracy Workman

The bird’s coloration is the result of a rare genetic mutation called xanthochroism — when yellow or orange plumage replaces a bird’s normal colors. In cardinals, the mutation is exceptionally rare. In a USA Today story, bird-coloration expert Geoff Hill says that about three yellow cardinals are reported each year. The population of the Northern Cardinal in the United States, according to Partners in Flight, is around 120 million birds.

Yellow Northern Cardinals, as rare as they are, are not to be confused with the South American species Yellow Cardinal. To see that bird, you’d have to visit Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, or southern Brazil.

Doug Young, chief operating officer for the South Florida Audubon Society, told USA Today that any time photos of a rare, beautiful bird are shared, it helps draw attention to the larger story of bird conservation and science. “Getting the word spread about these rare sightings is a good thing,” Young said. “It’s a visual that gets people excited about birds and nature.”

View photos of unusual birds in our Atypical Birds Gallery

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Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall

Matt Mendenhall is the editor of BirdWatching magazine and BirdWatchingDaily.com. He joined the staff of BirdWatching (formerly Birder’s World) in 2000 and has worn many hats over the years: reporter, story wrangler, photo editor, managing editor, and now editor. Originally from Omaha, he lives with his wife and two daughters in Milwaukee and holds a Bachelor’s in journalism from Marquette University. You can reach Matt at (617) 706-9098 and [email protected].

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