GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Gators are normally the animal of choice at the University of Florida. But this month, a yellow cardinal has soared to the top of the university’s popularity list.
The rare bird, a male Northern cardinal, has been spotted in a wooded area on the Gainesville campus, the Gainesville Sun reported. It was first seen on Feb. 28.
“I don’t know how many cardinals I have seen, maybe thousands,” Andy Kratter, the ornithology collections manager at the Florida Museum of Natural History, told the newspaper. “This is the first yellow cardinal I have seen.”
The cardinal’s bright yellow feathers are the result of a genetic mutation, according to scientists, who say it’s the same species as the familiar vivid red cardinal. The mutation changes its coloring.
Red cardinals, a state bird in seven U.S. states, are found across central and eastern North America, according to the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.
Experts believe there are only 10 to 15 yellow cardinals in North America, the Sun reported.
“All carotenoids come from the foods that the birds eat,” Kratter stated in a Florida Museum news release. “But every once in a while, a rare one-in-a-million mutation pops up in a male cardinal that creates a hiccup in the process that turns the carotenoids into yellow instead of red.”
The bird can be identified by its yellow body with a black mask around its eyes and beak, the Sun reported.
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