Myth or Reality
Songbirds get their color from yellow, orange, and red pigments called carotenoids found in their food, like sweet potatoes and carrots. Although wild songbirds typically eat yellow-pigmented foods, they can transform that color into warm, red feathers. But a rare mutation residing in the genes of the cardinal in question might be blocking that color-changing pathway, diluting the bird's red pigment to yellow. Genetics might not be the only thing to blame for this odd-looking cardinal. The bird's discoloration could also be a sign of illness. The bird's crest and wing feathers are rather worse for wear, a possible indication of a poor diet or stressful environment—factors that may be preventing the bird from boasting its true, vibrant red hue. If the same yellow bird is seen in Alabaster next winter, then it likely has a genetic mutation, he says. DNA analysis could definitively solve this color-confused mystery, though there are no plans to capture the animal.