In late November 2023, an image went viral on Facebook, allegedly showing a rare, red-and-white cardinal. "Santa Cardinal is Comin’ to Town," one user captioned it:
(Facebook user Laurie Anne)
Another social media user claimed the photograph was captured by "Annette Sigmon Womack," with the caption reading:
Santa Cardinal is Comin' to Town!
A rare red and white cardinal in it's festive colors makes an appearance in Canada. It's unusual look is caused by gynandromorphy. The bird's chromosomes didn't separate normally after fertilization causing the red and white plumage.
? Annette Sigmon Womack
However, our research could not confirm that information, and the origins of the photo remain unknown.
In fact, the photograph showed various signs of being AI-generated. For instance, the bird's claws appeared to dissolve into the tree branch.
Google reverse image search results showed that the image was shared on various platforms such as Pinterest, an online jigsaw puzzles website Jigifi, and X (formerly Twitter). What's more, one post on Facebook with the in-question image attached, gained over 170,000 reactions, over 8,000 comments, and 74,000 shares.
"What kind of bird is this beauty?," one Pinterest comment read, while another user answered "ai generated. details that give it away include weird feet and snow stuck to the tail." A comment in a similar tone read "Just proof that God is good," with another response indicating the picture was artificially created, "indeed. God has provided us with wonderful people who make cool tech that makes it easy for people who can't draw to make convincing images of birds that don't exist."
"It’s unusual look caused by gynandromorphy," one post on X claimed. For reference, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, gynandromorph is "an abnormal individual exhibiting characters of both sexes in various parts of the body."
A rare Red and white Cardinal it’s unusual look caused by gynandromorphy pic.twitter.com/DCP7m4rWHG
— ?Christine? (@WICKED_Queen12) December 13, 2023
American Bird Conservatory informed that male and female cardinals could be distinguished by color:
You can easily distinguish adult males and females by color: In contrast to the female's muted plumage, males are bright red birds. (Northern Cardinals get their name from this color, which reminded early European settlers of a Catholic cardinal's red robes.) Females are also slightly smaller than males on average, although the difference is subtle.
Although gynandromorph, red and white cardinals exist, they look significantly different from the bird in the viral image. Moreover, no reputable media sources shared the viral image and we have not found other photographs showing similar-looking cardinal birds, further proving it was artificially generated.
(Pinterest, Google search results)
All in all, given that the in-question image had tell-tale signs of being artificially generated, we have rated it as Fake.
In February 2021 we fact-checked a similar image, allegedly showing "a half-male, half-female cardinal." If you want to learn more about a genetically half male and half female bird, we recommend reading reading our article on the topic.
For reference, here's what a red, male northern cardinal looks like: