Living Bird Magazine
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Cardinalidae
Dapper in looks and cheerful in song, the Pyrrhuloxia is a tough-as-nails songbird of baking hot deserts in the American Southwest and northern Mexico. They’re closely related to Northern Cardinals, but they are a crisp gray and red, with a longer, elegant crest and a stubby, parrotlike yellow bill. During breeding season Pyrrhuloxias are fiercely and vocally territorial, but in the winter they forget their disputes and join together in large foraging flocks.More ID Info
Find This Bird
Pyrrhuloxias are habitat specialists, so look for them in desert scrub of the Southwest, where they look (and sound) like crisp, gray-and-red cardinals. The short, curved, yellow bill and long crest are good points to distinguish it from the Northern Cardinal, which can also occur in the desert.
- Cardenal Desértico (Spanish)
- Cardinal pyrrhuloxia (French)
Pyrrhuloxias come to backyards for seeds, particularly sunflower; it’s more likely to feed from ground feeders or from scattered or discarded seeds than visit elevated feeders. They may also feed from native, fruit-bearing shrubs or cacti. Find out more about what this bird likes to eat and what feeder is best by using the Project FeederWatch Common Feeder Birds bird list.
- Cool Facts
- Foraging winter flocks of Pyrrhuloxias may number as many as 1,000 birds.
- The name "Pyrrhuloxia" is a combination of the genus names Pyrrhula (bullfinches) and Loxia (crossbills). The roots mean "flame-colored" and "crooked," and aptly describe the reddish bird with the crooked bill.
- The Pyrrhuloxia has very similar vocalizations and behaviors to the closely related Northern Cardinal, which is found in the same range but tends to live in wetter habitats. When a male Pyrrhuloxia’s and a male cardinal’s territories overlap, each defends its territory vigorously from members of its own species, but they don’t seem to fight with each other.
- On a day when outdoor temperatures reached 118°F, a Pyrrhuloxia was seen sitting on a terrace in the air-conditioned breeze coming out of a house. This canny behavior has also been observed in Cactus Wrens and Loggerhead Shrikes.
- Though they will drink at pools of water when possible, Pyrrhuloxias seem to get most of their water from their insect food in spring and summer.
- The oldest Pyrrhuloxia on record was a male, and at least 8 years, 1 month old when he was recaught and rereleased during banding operations in Arizona.