ALABASTER, Ala. - Charlie Stephenson gazed out her window one day in late January and spotted a peculiar bird in her backyard feeder. Stephenson, an avid bird watcher, realized it was a cardinal sporting bright yellow feathers instead of the usual red hues.
Stephenson posted a photo of the bird on Facebook, which was shared widely as bird watchers frenzied over what is now being called the “one in a million yellow cardinal.”
Nearly a month later, Stephenson says the yellow cardinal is still around.
"Every time I watch the bird feeder, I can see him," she said. "The cardinals in my backyard typically come in the morning and again in the evening and I can only bird-watch on weekends until the time changes, but on weekends, I'll sit there and watch for him. Every time we've looked for him, he'll show up at least once that day."
As the photo grew in popularity on social media, bird watchers and biologists flocked to Stephenson’s hometown of Alabaster, Ala., in hopes of catching a glimpse of the rare bird. Jeremy Black, a friend of Stephenson and professional wedding and wildlife photographer, spent hours in Stephenson’s backyard trying to capture the perfect snapshot of the yellow cardinal.
"As soon as I saw it on her social media, I was kind of curious and I wanted to go explore and see if I could find it," Black told AL.com. "I finally saw it after about five hours."
He managed to get a few shots of the bird before it was scared away.
Auburn University biology professor Geoffrey Hill also took interest in the yellow cardinal. Hill explained to AL.com the adult male cardinal, which is in the same species as the common red cardinal, carries a genetic mutation giving the bird its flashy yellow colors.
"I've been bird-watching in the range of cardinals for 40 years and I've never seen a yellow bird in the wild," Hill said. "I would estimate that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada.”
With so few yellow cardinals present each year, sightings are rare.
“There are probably a million bird feeding stations in that area so very very roughly, yellow cardinals are a one in a million mutation,” Hill said.