ERIE, Pa. – Longtime observer Jamie Hill knew he had encountered something rare.
The man from Waterford, Pa. Saw a northern cardinal who appeared to be a man on his right side and a woman on his left.
“It was one of the experiences of a lifetime,” Hill said of the bird, which was bright red like a male cardinal on one side and brownish-white like a female on the other.
Known as the bilateral gynandromorph, he described it as “a bird divided in its middle, half male and half female” which turned out to be “quite unusual”. Hill photographed the Cardinal on Saturday in trees behind a residence in Warren County, Pa., About 55 miles southeast of Erie.
He had been alerted to this by a friend of the owner, who wanted to remain anonymous, and Hill did not want to reveal the exact location.
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He said the rare cardinal “behaved in a completely normal manner”. But, in theory, he said he could mate with a female cardinal or a male cardinal, depending on which of his hormones were active during mating season.
A similar bird recorded by an Erie couple was featured in a National Geographic article in January 2019. This bird, which was red on one side and brown on the other, was spotted and photographed by Jeffrey and Shirley Caldwell .
Daniel Hooper, then a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, told National Geographic that gynandromorphs are rare but not unknown. He also said they were more likely to be noticed in species where adult males and females appeared distinct, such as cardinals.
Hooper told the post that the bird photographed by the Caldwells in 2019 may actually be fertile, since the bird’s left side is female and only the left ovary in birds is functional. This also appears to be the case with the bird Hill found.
Gynandromorphism in birds likely occurs when the egg the bird developed from had two different sex chromosomes instead of just one, according to Natural History magazine.
Hill said he was unsure if the bird he saw was the same as Caldwell’s, but he thinks it is unlikely.
He encouraged other birders to “keep their eyes open for this bird or a similar bird.”
Hall, who was accompanied by his friend Annette Smith on Saturday, said the Warren County bird, which he had photographed from his car while the cardinal was in a pine tree, stood out from afar, even without binoculars.
He said he was “delighted to photograph it, to document it scientifically.”
Hall, 69, who has been watching birds for 48 years, said he had never seen one comparable to the bilateral gynandromorph Nordic Cardinal.
“It has been the most exciting,” he said.
Follow journalist Dana Massing on Twitter @ETNmassing
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