White-headed Northern Cardinal

Posted by Kirk Mona Monday, November 22, 2010
8 Comments



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.

~Kirk

8 comments

  1. Kerri Says:
  2. I've never seen a leucistic bird before. What a find!

     
  3. Debbie Says:
  4. 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

     
  5. Debbie Says:
  6. 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.

     
  7. David Spence Says:
  8. 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

     
  9. Aaron Rogers Says:
  10. 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

     
  11. Kirk Mona Says:
  12. That's great David. They are very interesting.

     
  13. DeeOkie Says:
  14. 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

     
  15. beegee Says:
  16. 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!