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This bird is both male and female



gynandromorphic rose breast grosbeak

Carnegie Museum of Natural History / Annie Lindsay

  • Scientists have discovered a gynandromorph (bisexual) bird in a Pennsylvania wildlife sanctuary.
  • The bird shows an even division in the middle between male and female feather color, so that the researchers can call it a “unicorn”.
  • The bird is likely a product of some genetic abnormality, but it is perfectly healthy.

    Every now and then a genetic abnormality occurs in the animal world that drives scientists crazy. Take the exotic bird in the picture above, for example. It is “gynandromorphic,” which means that a specimen contains both female and male features that are sometimes seen in physical features of the body.

    Meet the Rose Breast Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), which shows an even division in the middle between male and female feather color. The right side of the bird shows red plumage (male) while the left side shows golden yellow feathers (female), according to scientists at the Powdermill Nature Reserve of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pennsylvania who recently discovered it.

    The scientists were “very excited to see such a rarity up close and are driving the culmination of this once in a lifetime experience,” they said in a press release. Annie Lindsay, birding program manager at Powdermill, said one researcher called the experience “unicorn seeing” while another called the discovery an adrenaline rush because it was “so remarkable”.


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    Here’s why: Powdermill has banded and studied various species since 1962 – roughly 13,000 birds a year – and of the several hundred thousand birds that ornithologists have seen at this location, only fewer than 10 were gynandromorphs like the rose-breasted grosbeak. The last time Powdermill saw a gynandromorph was in 2005, when the team found a grosbeak that looked very similar to this one.

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    Science warning says the bird is “the product of a genetic abnormality,” but nothing is definitive without a blood test or autopsy.

    Despite the bird’s rare trust, the grosbeak is perfectly healthy. “Bilateral gynandromorphism, while very unusual, is normal and a great example of a fascinating genetic process that few people ever encounter,” said Lindsay.

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