Rare yellow cardinal found in Illinois backyard: ‘We Googled it’

Cardinals are known for their bright red color, but an Illinois couple had a one-in-a-million experience with a member of the species in a different hue. 

In February 2020, Chelsea Curry noticed a yellow songbird perched on a feeder at her home in Rushville. She called her husband, Richard, to come look at the unknown bird. He said it looked like a cardinal, which she did not believe.

“I argued that it was not because there was no such thing. He told me he didn’t know there was either, but it was definitely a cardinal. We Googled it, and that’s when we realized that it really was a yellow cardinal and just how rare they are,” Curry told USA TODAY. 

This week, Geoffrey Hill, a professor, bird curator and expert on bird coloration at Auburn University, confirmed that the couple spotted the rare bird.

The yellow cardinal visits the Curry household three to four times a day, even during bad weather.

He said in an interview in 2019 that people have a “one-in-a-million” chance to spot a yellow cardinal. He said the coloration is due to a mutation in the bird’s DNA that blocks the normal red pigment and replaces it with a yellow color that stems from its diet.

“Almost all land birds only ingest yellow pigments. There’s almost no red carotenoids in the diets of cardinals or almost any other bird,” Hill told USA TODAY. He said cardinals have an enzyme that converts the yellow pigments to red, but if that enzyme fails, the feathers will be yellow.

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