Photos: Rare Half-Male, Half-Female Songbird Discovered by Scientists

by Jon D. B.
(Photo credit: David Tipling/Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

It’s been over fifteen years since a songbird with this incredibly rare condition has been found by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

Excitement is high at the Powdermill Nature Reserve. The Reserve, part of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History is – well – making history!

Researchers at the facility have made another “discovery of a generation”. The discovery? A rare songbird that is half male – and half female. The genetic makeup of the small bird, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, appears to be split right down the middle.

While speaking to CNN of their discovery, the reserve’s manager, Annie Lindsay, could barely contain her excitement.

“Everyone here, I mean the whole crew, was just so excited,” Lindsay tells CNN. “There was this scientific interest, of course. But also happiness for seeing something that was so rare.”

The last time the Carnegie Museum found a bird of this nature was a staggering fifteen years ago. This is even more impressive considering the center has observed and identified just shy of 1 million birds in that time.

How Does a Songbird Develop as both Male & Female?

Fascinatingly, the unique little bird shows both characteristics of males and females of its species. This isn’t, however, only noticeable from a DNA or analytical standpoint. This special Rose-crested Grosbeak appears, in fact, to have male coloration on one side – and female on the other.

For this species of Grosbeak, each sex is distinguishable by color. Males feature pink wing pits. Females, on the other hand, are yellowish-to-brown. And as can be clearly seen in their photos – this little fellow is sporting both color patterns.

How does nature account for this? While it is rare, scientists classify the syndrome as gynandromorphism. Comparatively to other genetic conditions, little is known about gynandromorphism past the name itself. The “gyne” within is Greek for female. “Andro”, in turn means male. “Morph”, a Greek term often used in animal kingdom classification, means variety.

Grosbeak Offers Rare Look at Ggynandromorphism

With so few documented cases, its tough for biologists to know how this condition plays out over the specimen’s lifespan.

Annie Lindsay does, however, note “there probably aren’t any advantages to it. It will definitely impact its ability to mate. We don’t know if that female side has a functional ovary. If it does, and it is able to attract a male mate, it could reproduce,” she goes on to tell CNN.

And since the bird wasn’t discovered during its mating season, it’s hard to gather data on the matter. Carnegie identified the bird in September during “normal bird banding operations”. Banding is completed to identify birds in their natural habitat. Once a specimen is banded with a tiny aluminum leg band – they’re released back into the wild.

As a result, the nature reserve was able to identify the songbird as over a year old. From this, researchers note that the condition, at least, is not debilitating. If it were, the Grosbeak likely wouldn’t make it to adulthood.

The fascinatingly unique bird comes toward the end of a year that has already been very bizarre – and costly – for songbirds in North America.