are there yellow cardinal birds

Yellow Cardinal in TN

In Harriman, Tennessee, a backyard feeding station in Roane County receives a rather peculiar guest. They have a yellow Cardinal visiting on a regular basis. Although they have been spotted in at least four states over the past ten years, yellow northern cardinals are still uncommon. What makes a normally red bird turn yellow? Basically, carotenoid pigments from the foods birds eat give feathers their red, orange, and yellow colors. A particular enzyme appears to be responsible for turning yellow pigments from the diet into red in male Northern Cardinals. That enzyme is absent in an extremely uncommon genetic mutation that affects presumably less than one in a million cardinals; as a result, the conversion to red is prevented and the feathers turn a brilliant yellow color instead.

Get Ready Now for Nesting Season

In just two weeks, we will welcome February, which could be the coldest and possibly snowiest month of the year. However, you can always anticipate a few days when it warms up to the 60s, at which point bird activity takes off. Certain birds will start singing, and others—like the Carolina wren—might even start building nests.

As you have undoubtedly observed, the Carolina wren often selects rather peculiar spots to establish a nest, frequently in areas that people find bothersome, such as a canoe or gas grill. They frequently pick areas like garages, garden sheds, and covered porches. Every spring, we get a number of calls from folks who have unexpectedly found themselves in a problematic situation with a nest full of baby birds. If you recognize this situation, take the initiative and prevent access to these areas as soon as you can.

Additionally, this is a great time to reflect on your nest box accomplishments and shortcomings from the previous year and make any necessary corrections. Try a different location if a nest box has been there for a few years without any activity. Move it soon.

If you haven’t already, empty out previous nests before the birds start building new ones. Naturally, birds will build on top of abandoned nests, but this can present a problem because ants and other insects may find the decaying old nest to be appealing. As the ants started to eat the baby birds alive, I prevented them from dying.

If you haven’t previously provided a Bluebird box, you might want to do so in February. Even though most bluebirds won’t start nesting until April, they will spend a lot of February scouting possible locations. thru March.

For Stephenson’s yellow cardinal (not to be confused with a Yellow Cardinal), well have to see if its look is permanent. Regardless, at least it wore its golden feathers boldly. “If I fly or if I fall, at least I can say I gave it all.” That one’s from RuPaul.

Thankfully, Stephenson had already consulted Geoffrey Hill, an ornithologist and coloration expert at Auburn University. He told her that the bird probably had a genetic mutation that renders the pigments it draws from foods yellow rather than red. The condition he cited, xanthochroism, has been seen in other cardinals, along with eastern House Finches and maybe Evening Grosbeaks.

As birds have shown over and over, there are always new plumage puzzles to investigate. Remember the half-female, half-male cardinal that made the news a few years ago? That turned out to be a an obscure type of hermaphroditism—a phenomenon that affects many types of animals.

Update: The Alabama yellow cardinal has shacked up with a red female cardinal in the yard where it was originally spotted. After raising at least one chick, the couple now seems to be nesting again. (This is typical for the species.) You can follow along on their Facebook page, created by Charlie Stephenson and Jeremy Black.

“If you see one cardinal, you’ve seen them all,” said no one ever. As common as they are, Northern Cardinals rank among the most-loved birds in the eastern United States (unless you’re a Chicago Cubs fan). The National Audubon Society should know: Our Facebook followers can’t seem to get enough of them.


What causes a cardinal to be yellow?

In the male Northern Cardinal, yellow pigments from the diet apparently are converted to red by a specific enzyme. In a very rare genetic mutation, probably affecting fewer than one in a million cardinals, that enzyme is lacking, so the conversion to red doesn’t occur and the feathers are bright yellow instead.

How many colors of cardinals are there?

Type of Cardinal
Male Color
Female Color
Northern Cardinal
Brown with Red
Vermilion Cardinal
Red and White
Gray and Red
Gray and Red
Yellow Cardinal

Is a yellow cardinal male or female?

Bright yellow feathers and distinctive black mask around the male cardinal make it easy for many to identify, at least to people who know what to look for. But for more novice birders, Hill has some tips. “It’s really easy to mistake a typical female cardinal for that sought-after yellow cardinal,” Hill said.