One does not need to be an expert to tell the basic difference between a male and a female cardinal. Their distinct physical appearances are pretty clear.

Males of the species don brilliant crimson plumage while females have more subtle brownish yellow feathers.

But a woman named Shirley Caldwell claims that there aren’t just two types.


A few weeks ago, Caldwell and her husband saw a new visitor to the backyard of their Pennsylvania home. It was obvious that it was a cardinal, but it was no ordinary cardinal.

“There was something abnormal about it,” Caldwell told The Dodo. “We finally got a really good look at it this past Saturday and I was able to obtain photos.”


This little cardinal wears an unusual split coat.

He’s half male and half female.

“I saw it and thought to myself, ‘Holy cow!’” Caldwell recalled.


Caldwell definitely knows what she is talking about as she is a bird watching enthusiast. On the basis of her research, she was able to identify the visitor as a “bilateral gynandromorph”- an organism which has split-sex characteristics, making the cardinal both male and female.

The condition can be found in a number of insects, crustaceans and birds. Perhaps a breakdown of how it occurs early in development as a result of an egg containing two nuclei will make things more clear.

Daniel Hooper, at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, confirmed the discovery.

“This remarkable bird is a genuine male/female chimaera,” Hooper told the NatGeo.


Experts are not sure about how common this occurrence is in animals as some split-sex bodies are not very visible. But given cardinal’ sexual dimorphism, it’s not easy to miss.

Fortunately, being different hasn’t given the bird any peculiar behaviours who regularly visits Caldwell’s yard.

“It seems to be healthy. It seems to be a good weight, it is eating well,” Caldwell said. “It does not have a male companion that it travels with. Whether or not they will be able to reproduce is something only nature will know. I’m hoping they continue to hang around.”


Caldwell is aware that some people don’t believe the male/female bird sighting, so she has been encouraging them to look into it themselves. After all, she considers it a fortunate thing to have seen it firsthand.


“I just wanted to share something that was an interest of mine,” Caldwell said.”I certainly got lucky.”

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