Gallatin White Cardinal

A rare leucistic northern cardinal was photographed by Scott Davis in the backyard of his Gallatin home last month. Photograph used with permission from Scott Davis.

Scott Davis had just walked to the backdoor of his Gallatin home last month when the lifelong bird watcher spotted something he had never seen before.

A nearly all white cardinal with only light red feathers on its wings, tail and the top of its head had landed and was eating food the 67-year-old retiree had spread out across the backyard of the residence.

“It’s actually the prettiest bird I think I’ve ever seen,” Davis said. “It’s an unnatural color. Maybe that’s what makes it so pretty. It’s just so odd and rare.”

Despite being a bird watcher his entire life, Davis said he had never seen a white cardinal before one landed in his backyard.

The bird, he said, has a rare condition known as leucism which prevents color from getting into its feathers.

“There is like a one in 1,800 chance of one existing,” Davis added. “Some of them maybe just have one little spot and some of them have even more white on them than the one I photographed.”

The cardinal was first spotted in the backyard of the home in the Elk Acres subdivision off State Route 109 shortly after a winter storm blanketed the area with a layer of ice last month.

Davis said he had put out food hoping to feed hungry birds in the area that had been unable to hunt due to the cold weather.

“Cardinals like sunflower seeds, so I threw a bunch out there on the snow and ice,” Davis recalled. “That’s when he came. He was probably out there between 10 and 15 minutes each time.”

In addition to taking photographs of the cardinal, Davis was also able to record video of the bird, which he later shared with the Tennessee Bird Watchers group on Facebook. The 18-second video has so far been shared more than 157,000 times on the social media site since it was posted Feb. 17.

The sighting has also been featured on a television news broadcast in Knoxville and has even prompted other bird enthusiasts to ask if they can visit Davis’ home to try to get their own glimpse of the rare bird. Those requests, however, have been denied.

“It’s incredible,” Davis said about the popularity of the video. “I don’t mind (the attention). I just don’t want to be bothered about it.”

As for the cardinal, Davis said it has not returned since it flew away shortly after he captured it on video last month.

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