Northern Cardinal -
The Northern Cardinal is a familiar resident of the eastern and central
US, Arizona, southern New Mexico, parts of southeastern Canada, and Mexico.
The crest and bright red plumage of the male is unmistakable.
The following photos of a leucistic Northern Cardinal were kindly
provided to us by Sue Huffer of Indianapolis who noticed this bird visiting
her backyard. Note that the bill, eye and some of the plumage appear normal,
but the remainder of the plumage lacks the red carotenoid pigments.
We occasionally receive inquiries about birds that are all white with red
eyes (albinism) or with varying degrees of white in their otherwise normal
There seems to be a bit of confusion in the ornithological literature
regarding the definitions of leucism, albinism and partial albinism. Some
authors define leucism as a reduction in pigments of all types, but albinism
as the absence of only the melanin pigments but the presence of the other
carotenoid pigments. Others define leucism as those birds that have melanin
in the body but not in some of the feathers, but albinistic birds as those
that lack melanin in the body as well.
If this sounds confusing, this following table might help.
||All pigments present but in reduced
||Melanin absent, but
other pigments may be present.
||Melanin present in body but not in
||No melanin in body or
Whichever the case, leucistic birds are not true albinos. These birds are
the phenotypic result of a geneotype that results in a reduced amount of
deposition of pigment as the feathers were developing.