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'Incredibly rare' male-female bird draws crowd at nature reserve

Wednesday, October 21st 2020, 7:01 am - While the male-female rose-breasted grosbeak is rare, gynandromorphs aren’t unheard of in animals, as they are found in birds, butterflies and snakes, among other species.

A rare half-male, half-female rose-breasted grosbeak got the red-carpet treatment from spectators at a nature reserve in Pennsylvania.

This particular grosbeak is referred to as a gynandromorph — an organism that has both male and female sex characteristics. While it is a rare spectacle, it isn’t unheard of in animals, with gynandromorphs found in birds, butterflies and snakes, to name a few.

The colourful visitor only stayed a short period of time, but managed to capture the attention of those on site. Annie Lindsay, the Powdermill Nature Reserve's bird banding program manager, described the excitement the animal generated to CBC's As It Happens.

Rose-breasted grosbeak/submitted A rare rose-breasted grosbeak gynandromorph. Photo: Annie Lindsay, Powdermill Nature Reserve/Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

A researcher who saw the bird, compared the unexpected visit to "seeing a unicorn," while another witness described feeling an "incredible adrenaline rush."

"We only had it in the hand for a few minutes and then we released it," Lindsay said. "It was incredibly rare to see this. So we were all very, very excited."

Rose-breasted grosbeak/submitted This particular grosbeak is referred to as a gynandromorph — an organism that has both male and female sex characteristics. Photo: Annie Lindsay, Powdermill Nature Reserve/Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

In the 60-year history of the Powdermill Nature Reserve, located in Rector, Pa., it has recorded more than 800,000 bird sightings. However, it has only stumbled upon five gynandromorphs, that it is aware of anyway.

Thumbnail courtesy of Annie Lindsay, Powdermill Nature Reserve/Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

With files from CBC's As It Happens.

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