You have not entered an alternate dimension. This cardinal, a bird usually known for its stunning crimson color, is yellow … bright yellow.
The wait was worth it. The bird flitted into view just long enough for Black to get several jaw-dropping shots of the rare Northern cardinal, which have now been shared thousands of times online.
It was Charlie Stephenson, Black’s neighbor and an avid bird watcher, who first spotted the cardinal bopping around the feeder in the backyard of her Shelby County home.
“I thought ‘well there’s a bird I’ve never seen before’,” Stephenson told Al.com. “Then I realized it was a cardinal, and it was a yellow cardinal.”
The sunny flier is the same species as the red cardinals many are used to seeing in North America, says Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill, only this animal has a genetic mutation that causes the hue of its feathers to be yellow instead of red.
Stephenson posted about the sighting on Facebook, but didn’t give away her exact location, in fear fellow birders would come flocking to her yard.
She did permit her friend Black to stake out a spot near her home in hopes he could photograph the male bird she had spotted several times in 2018.
On Feb. 19, Black set up camp in Stephenson’s backyard and after five hours, the cardinal graced the lawn with his presence once more.
“I started out sitting in her backyard hoping that maybe I would see it. A lot of cardinals came by and none of them were yellow, so I decided to be a little bit more evasive and hide on her screened-in porch,” Black said of his bird photography tactics. “About two or three hours after I moved to the porch, it finally showed up.”
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Even with his patience, Black was lucky to catch the cardinal. Hill, who has been birdwatching for 40 years and has written books on the subject, believes Black’s photos are proof of a one in a million opportunity.
“I’ve been birdwatching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I’ve never seen a yellow bird in the wild. I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada,” he said. “There are probably a million bird feeding stations in that area so very very roughly, yellow cardinals are a one in a million mutation.”
Black is hoping to press his luck. The photographer plans to routinely visit Stephenson’s yard and the surrounding area in hopes of getting a shot of the yellow cardinal next to a traditional red cardinal.