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Meet the rare songbird that's half-male and half-female

The crew at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Powdermill Nature Reserve discovered one of five known bilateral gynandromorphic songbirds.

Meet the rare songbird that's half-male and half-female
Image Source: PowdermillNatureReserve / Facebook

Scientists have found a half-male, half-female songbird at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History's Powdermill Nature Reserve. This songbird is especially rare and is, in fact, only the fifth such songbird to be discovered out of the nearly 800,000 birds that the nature reserve has seen. The bird has therefore been described as a "once in a lifetime" discovery. Essentially, the songbird has male features on one side of its body and female features on the other side. The discovery is absolutely great news to the scientists at the nature reserve, who were overjoyed about finding something so rare, CNN reports.

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"Everyone here, I mean the whole crew, was just so excited," said Annie Lindsay, the nature reserve's bird banding program manager, in an interview with the news outlet. "There was this scientific interest, of course. But also happiness for seeing something that was so rare." Scientists identified the bird as a Rose-breasted Grosbeak. These birds are distinguished by their color. While males of this species have pink "wing pits," females have yellow-brown ones. The songbird recently discovered at the Powdermill Nature Reserve had both pink and yellow-brown wing pits. This genetic variation is known officially as gynandromorphism. To provide a loose translation, "gyne" is Greek for female, and "andro" means male."Morph" means variety.

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At present, scientists do not have much information about how gynandromorphism will affect the songbird's life. This is mainly due to how rare the genetic variation is. Lindsay explained that it could, unfortunately, make mating a difficult process. She shared, "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." As the bird was not found during the breeding season, questions about how it mates could not be answered; the songbird did not display mating behavioral cues that birds typically would during this season.

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The crew at the nature reserve identified the bird during normal bird "banding" operations. This is when birds the reserve has already caught are marked with a miniature aluminum leg band featuring a nine-digit identification code before they are released into the wild again. What the scientists do know is that the bird was at least a year old. This means that it was able to survive adulthood with its condition. Though songbirds with gynandromorphism are rare, it is not very uncommon. Species of spiders, crustaceans, and even chickens can experience gynandromorphy. It is a natural phenomenon that occurs when an unfertilized egg with two nuclei fuses with sperm and produces an embryo with both male and female cells. To learn more about this, Lindsay has sampled the songbird's feathers to conduct a genetic analysis and see what else they can find out about it.

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