Researchers find a rare and splendid bird half female and half male

Researchers find a rare and splendid bird half female and half male
Researchers find a rare and splendid bird half female and half male. © CC BY-SA 2.0 / ethan.gosnell2 / Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Researchers at the Powdermill Nature Reserve, located in Pennsylvania, USA, found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph with pink and black plumage, typical for males, on one half of the body; and one of yellow and brown colors, characteristic of females, on the other side.

Scientists think it could be a genetic abnormality known as bilateral gynandromorphism. Unlike true hermaphroditism, which contemplates having both male and female reproductive tissues, gynandromorphs display male and female characteristics on either side of their body.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph
Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph. © PHOTO: Powdermill Nature Reserve facebook post

Even the back of the wings and the tail of the found bird show crucial differences: the left side is a shade browner and the right side – more black.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph Photo
Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph Photo © PHOTO: Powdermill Nature Reserve facebook post

“The entire banding team was very excited to see such a rarity up close, and are riding the high of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. (…) One of them described it as ‘seeing a unicorn’,” said Annie Lindsay, manager of the bird banding program at Powdermill.

A popular question, according to a statement from the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, is whether this bird has the ability to reproduce.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph Image
Rose-breasted Grosbeak gynandromorph Image © PHOTO: Powdermill Nature Reserve facebook post

“Since usually only the left ovary is functional in birds, and the left side of this bird is the female side, this bird theoretically could produce young if it successfully mates with a male,” scientists explain.

The rosy-breasted Grosbeak (two females and one male)
© PHOTO: PUBLIC DOMAIN / ALABAMA EXTENSION : ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAKS (TWO FEMALE AND ONE MALE)

However, even with a potentially functional ovary, this lovely bird might not be able to mate. Since these are songbirds, and males attract females with their music, it is unclear whether this bird will be able to attract one with its singing.