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IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

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.


The Pyrrhuloxia’s clear, whistled songs are very similar to those of the Northern Cardinal (one familiar example being the repeated what-cheer song) though slightly softer and more reedy. Males have around a dozen songs, each 2–3 seconds long, which they sing frequently to establish and maintain territories. Two neighbors may sing in unison or alternately across a territory boundary. Females occasionally sing while defending nests.


  • song, call
  • Courtesy of Macaulay Library
    © Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Pyrrhuloxias make a sharp, metallic cheek or chip note, similar to that of the Northern Cardinal but lower in pitch. Other calls include a chattering contact call, a series of soft chipping notes during foraging, and a tseep call used by begging fledglings. Pyrrhuloxias often call while in flight.

Other Sounds

Males make fluttering sounds with their wings while flying after females during courtship.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

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.

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.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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