For many of us, the male Cardinal with its brilliant flash of red color is a real treat. But what about the impeccable white Cardinals, whose distinct coloration, or in fact lack thereof, is indeed incredibly admirable?
Have we got you thinking if a white Cardinal actually exists?
Yes, it does!
The unique genetic condition of the phenomenally amazing yet rare creature affects the coloring of its feathers and its potential to survive in the wild.
The Albino Cardinal, one of the rarest species, can seldom be spotted around. Lacking its typical red color due to a genetic mutation causing a lack of Melanin pigment, the albino cardinal has white plumage and reddish-pink eyes. They usually end up being preyed upon, because of which they have low survival rates.
A white-colored cardinal is one of the most eye-catching and discernible examples of an Albino species, making it highly noticeable not just to proficient birders but even to amateur ones.
Let’s explore the intriguing details about Albino Cardinals that would definitely leave you stunned and answer some of the most frequently asked questions.
Did you just spot an extremely rare sight of a white Albino Cardinal flying by your yard?
Pretty evident, the Albino bird has an all-white plumage from its head to tail due to its unpigmented skin, lacking any coloration in its feathers, unlike the vivid red Cardinals. The bird’s eyes also lack the color pigment causing them to appear pink or red, making the blood vessels visible in the retina.
Despite the lack of coloration in the feathers due to the inability to produce melanin, an Albino Cardinal would still have its red bill, feet, and typical red wing feathers of the Cardinals. This peculiar coloration is due to the presence of the red catenoid pigments, which the bird intakes through its diet.
Typically having a bright red color, the white plumage of the one in a million cardinals is inevitably due to certain mutations or abnormalities in the bird’s genetic makeup.
The intensity of Albinism varies, causing the bird to have varying degrees of color. Sometimes, there may be an absolute deficiency of the melanin pigment due to a genetic mutation, resulting in the absence of any color.
In contrast, melanin may be present in minute amounts at other times, giving the bird only a slight color while it still remains an albino.
At times, however, the lack of color in the bird’s feathers can be attributed to leucism. This condition causes an abnormality in the pigments of the feathers. Not necessarily resulting in an overall white Cardinal, this condition can cause the bird to have pale or muted feathers or sporadic patches of white on the plumage.
DID YOU KNOW?
Albinism is an uncommon recessive gene, which means that both the mother and father of the bird carried this gene. A small percentage of the resulting offspring might have this melanin defect in the dominant genes, and hence, are Albino.
You’ll be very fortunate if you spot this delightfully uncustomary species flying by your yard or in the parks near you.
If you’re contemplating why these blissful birds can’t be seen every now and then, that’s typical because they cannot survive for very long. The predators get a good sight of the birds flashing around from afar, so they get easily picked off, having minimal chances of survival.
Birds are typically pretty visually oriented in nature. They choose their mates quite wisely, making sure they appeal to them. Red cardinals are not too fascinated by the white cardinals, hence choosing not to mate with them. Since these birds do not get to breed, they remain a rare sight.
For many of us, the Cardinal’s rules of color are stagnated at the conspicuous, bold red. Yellow and white Cardinals, though a rarity, prodigiously break this Cardinal rule of color.
An amalgamation of an absolute albino and a normal red Cardinal is the Piebald Cardinals, characterized by irregular white patches on the body amidst its typical red feathers giving the Cardinal a partial albino effect.
The test to detect Albinism in the birds is through the eyes. The complete absence or deficiency of the melanin pigment causes the blood vessels to be visible through the eyes, giving them a bright pink or red color rather than the typical brown color.
On the other hand, Cardinals with leucism usually have normal colored eyes instead of pinkish or reddish eyes. There is a lack of color pigment in this genetic condition, not an absolute absence, allowing the bird to retain very slight coloring on its body, appearing lighter and paler than usual or having white patches overall.
Relative to the flamboyant plumage of the red cardinals, which can help camouflage themselves well in the dense vegetation and flora, white Cardinals remain quite exposed in the vegetation. This greatly puts them at a disadvantage since their decolorized feathers stand out, making them an easy target for predators.
Their poor eyesight aggravates their vision. Melanin is critical for the visionary senses and protects the eyes from UV radiation. Since they cannot see well, their ability to detect predators is hampered, impeding their survival. This makes the adult albino Cardinals an utter rarity in the wild.
DID YOU KNOW?
Albino Cardinals have incredibly low survival rates and rarely do they survive beyond the fledgling stage.
The Albino Cardinals have quite weak and fragile feathers due to the lack of melanin. With time, these feathers begin to wither and break off. These feathers are not effective in the retention of heat. Since they reflect heat, the feathers cannot provide adequate protection in freezing temperatures, affecting the bird’s survival.
Read this interesting post to learn and explore how long do cardinals live? The record is amazing!
White Cardinals have very low survival rates, so getting a chance to gaze at one is itself a privilege.
Unlike the brilliant, conspicuously bold plumaged, red Cardinals, the Albinos are rather subtle in hues. The impact of their delicate coloration is evident in their behavior as well.
According to reports from birders who have closely observed a white Cardinal at their bird feeders, the lovely, graceful bird has a quite reserved personality. Easily scared away by fellow birds, it would not return to the feeder until the next day.
Quite shy in nature, the white Cardinal is very attentive and observant of its surroundings, trying to keep a keen check on any predators around. Before finally landing on the feeder, it would examine the area diligently, looking and listening around for any plausible threats.
Leucistic and Albino Cardinals are extremely rare, but these outlandish birds do exist. Every once in a while, they can be spotted around. Very few, an extremely small number indeed, are reported to be observed each year.
According to studies by Ornithologists, about 1 in 1800 cardinals is a White Cardinal.
Breaking the Cardinal rule of color, you can also sometimes spot the strikingly gorgeous yellow Cardinal. These Cardinal outliers have a variation in their plumage color. However, this is not due to the lack of melanin pigment in the bird’s body but due to another rare genetic mutation that causes the bright golden yellow plumage.
The red cardinals typically get their flamboyantly vivid red color from the food they eat. Feeding on the plants such as berries and insects that contain these pigments, the enzyme cateronoid converts these ingested pigments into red, giving the Cardinal their gorgeous red feathers.
Due to this genetic disorder, the yellow Cardinals lack the enzymes to convert their yellow pigment in the food they consume into red feathers. This renders their plumage a bright yellow color. This condition caused by a lack of catenoid pigment is scientifically referred to as xanthochromism.
Currently, the global population of this species is known to be around 1000 to 2000. This distinctive eye-catching species is known to be a one-in-a-million.
There are only 10 to 12 yellow Cardinals among 50 million red Cardinals!
The feeding habits of the Albino Cardinals are similar to the bright plumaged red cardinals.
Eating mainly seeds such as sunflower and cracked corns, among their favorites, and various sorts of berries including grapes, blackberries, and wild berries, Cardinals also prefer to munch on insects like spiders crickets, and flies.
Like their red mates, the elegant white cardinals, often with streaks of peach or red, prefer to hop on the ground or forage for food from the low shrubs and trees. However, they do not exhibit quite boldness, staying shy and timid, carefully assessing their foraging site before feeding, as they cautiously watch out for predators.
Unfortunately, even then, they become a vulnerable target of predators, including the larger birds as well as cats and snakes, due to their bodacious appearance and poor vision.
You can consider purchasing the Perky-Pet Feeder for Cardinals in hope of attracting a rare Albino Cardinal into your backyard.
Though not ubiquitous like the splashy red ones, white Cardinals are spotted very occasionally. Recently, these beautiful species have been encountered in a few regions including Alabama, Maryland, Philadelphia, and Illinois.
The degree and intensity of Albinism vary, with the kind of genetic abnormality affecting the Cardinal bird, causing it to exhibit different results.
From an absolutely white plumage to a few spots on the body, the type of Albinism gives each bird a peculiar physical trait.
These Cardinals have a complete absence of melanin in their bodies. This specific mutation causes a deficiency of the enzyme tyrosinase in the bird–which then causes the bird’s entire skin to remain unpigmented, giving their plumage a white color, including the red coloration of the eyes due to the presence of the blood vessels.
Having a predominantly white plumage, these birds have a different genetic variation where they can produce melanin. Still, an abnormality in the genes prevents the pigment from being deposited in the feathers.
The Cardinal still has the red feathers that get their coloration from the catenoid pigment, typically in the wing bars, tail, and crest, while the rest of the plumage is almost white.
In this case, the Cardinal has a combination of feathers on its body, with some feathers completely lacking in melanin while others having the usual coloration.
This mutation can give the bird variable appearances, with just a few scattered white feathers or one part of the body such as the neck, tail, or head clustered with white feathers.
Partial leucism is, by far, the most prevalent type of melanin disorder that causes an abnormality in the plumage color in wild birds.
In a dilute plumaged bird, the body can produce melanin that gives the feathers its bold colors, but this pigment is in low concentrations, almost 50% or sometimes even less.
This gives the bird an incredibly pale color pattern, where the red is lightened to hues of light pink or even peach and pale grayish brown for females - for example. All the feathers usually tend to have the same concentration of melanin throughout.
However, unlike the bird’s bright plumage, these pale feathers can readily fade, causing these species to be bleached due to the sun. When worn out, this extremely pale plumage resulting from the dilute melanin in the bird makes it almost analogous to the fully leucistic cardinals.
Albino Cardinals, sometimes with a tinge of red on their beaks, crest, and wings, while at other times, absolutely graceful white birds are a mesmerizing treat to look at.
Having the flashy red Cardinals so prevalent around us, catching the gaze of the Albino is an utter rarity and one of the best privileges of nature that you wouldn’t want to miss out on.
Whether white or the ubiquitous red, Cardinals are one of the most fascinating birds of the Kingdom that never fail to delight us, adding a spark of dazzling color in our atmosphere with their flamboyance.
Do you think you know all about the Cardinals? Test your knowledge by reading this interesting post highlighting 42 amazing facts about these beautiful birds.
My name is Inigo and I'm the the founder of Bird Watching USA! I started Bird Watching with My father-in-law many years ago, and I've become an addict to watching these beautiful creatures. I've learnt so much over about bird watching over the years that I want to share with the world everything I know about them!
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