Monday, November 22, 2010

White-headed Northern Cardinal

Posted by Kirk Mona

On November 21st, this interesting looking cardinal showed up at a backyard birdfeeder in Eden Prairie, MN. Thanks to Nancy for letting me re-produce the photos. She wasn't sure what was up with this strange looking female Northern Cardinal chowing down at her Yankee Whipper. The head is white but it still has a red crest. This is a pretty classic example of partial leucism. I've posted a number of images of leucistic birds from around the metro before. There was the Leucistic American Goldfinch (also with white on the head though not as much as this cardinal. I really liked this leucistic American Robin as well. One of my favorites though was this odd leucistic purple finch that looked like some sort of odd ring-necked finch.

Leucism results from defects in pigment cells in an animal's body. It can affect just one cell or all of the cells on an animal. This means we can get a bird with just one odd white feather or, as in this case, white feathers in just one part of the body. We can even get a leucistic bird with all white feathers but normal colored eyes, beak and legs. These are the individuals that are most often mistaken for albinos. A leucistic animal is sometimes called a partial albino but technically this is incorrect as albinism has a completely different cause and is systemic, never partial. True albinos lack melanin in all of the cells in their body thus the oddly colored eyes, beak and legs.



Kerri said...

I've never seen a leucistic bird before. What a find!

Debbie said...

My husband first saw this bird a few days ago. I saw it this afternoon at the feed but she didn't stay long enough :( what a pretty looking bird

Debbie said...

My husband first saw this bird the other day at the feeder. I saw it today and wasn't quick enough in getting my camera to take a picture of her. What a pretty looking bird we live in the Northeast and this is the first time we've seen this bird.

David Spence said...

I've also seen one - in 2012 in the winter I thought maybe it was bald from a fungus or something, but she came back again this year - definitely white feathers.

London, Ontario, Canada

Aaron Rogers said...

We have one of these strange cardinals frequenting our feeder. What an unusual sight. We are trying to capture it with our camera but have been unsuccessful. We will keep trying

Kirk Mona said...

That's great David. They are very interesting.

DeeOkie said...

This is so interesting. I am a backyard birdwatcher and I just saw a female cardinal with the shocking white head at my feeder. First time!

Norman, Oklahoma

beegee said...

Im so thankful you posted this. I live around Tulsa, OK and have been seeing a white-headed, female cardinal for the last few months. She's beautiful! I knew she had to be rare!

I'm glad to know what causes this anomaly.

Thanks, again!

Asim Esen said...

Clearly, this is a case of somatic mutation. A skin cell at the head region experienced a mutation in one of the genes involved in the melanin biosynthesis pathway during development. The result is all of the cells that descended from that original mutant cell could not synthesize melanin, producing a "beauty spot" or albino feathered head.

Lucy said...

This is 2015. My unnamed cardinal has been in my yard for 3 year. I told people about it and they laughed and said he could not be a cardinal. Last year my son saw it and said it looked like a cardinal,
had the crest, but had white head.
My daughter took some pictures of it thru the screened window and I
sent it by email to my other son.
He found your site and sent it to me. I was so thrilled to finally give my cardinal a name.