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Abnormal Coloration: Northern Cardinal Male


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Can't tell you what is up with it, but it's cool you get Tree Sparrows where you are. That's certainly a bird that most people here don't get at their feeders. It seems like it has some excess red on it, making it almost look like Vermillion Cardinal of South America.

Edited by Connor Cochrane
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7 hours ago, Connor Cochrane said:

Can't tell you what is up with it, but it's cool you get Tree Sparrows where you are. That's certainly a bird that most people here don't get at their feeders. It seems like it has some excess red on it, making it almost look like Vermillion Cardinal of South America.

Actually, it doesn't have excess red, it has too little black or, rather, brown. This is one of the many forms of leucism or amelanism. Browns are created in birds by a couple processes. One of those is a group of melanins termed brown eumelanin (see here). Another is combining a melanin and a carotenoid (the yellow to red pigments). This bird looks like its production of red is fine, it just didn't get the overlay of darkness provided by a eumelanin.

Finally, notice that the flight feathers on both wing and tail are, essentially, normal, despite all the abnormal body feathers. That strongly suggests that this is a first-cycle bird that did not replace flight feathers in its fall molt. It also suggests that the problem, whatever it is, expressed itself after the bird grew its first coat of "hard" feathers in the nest, else all of its feathers would be lacking the darkening pigment. Extra-finally, note that virtually all of the red feathers are the wrong color of red, again pointing out the LACK of the darkening agent that is a eumelanin.

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