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Pyrrhuloxia Life History


ScrubPyrrhuloxias live in upland deserts, mesquite savannas, riparian (streamside) woodlands, desert scrublands, farm fields with hedgerows, and residential areas with nearby mesquite. When not breeding, some Pyrrhuloxias wander into urban habitats, mesquite-hackberry habitats, and riparian habitats with Arizona sycamore and cottonwood.Back to top


SeedsThe Pyrrhuloxia is an opportunistic and omnivorous bird that forages on the ground and in the shrubbery, eating seeds, fruits, and large insects. It gleans seeds from thistle grass, doveweed, sandbur, panicum, sorghum, pigweed, yellow foxtail, joint grass, crabgrass, wiregrass, and spurge. The fruits in its diet include cactus fruits, nightshade fruits, and elderberries, though it eats much less fruit than the Northern Cardinal does. The Pyrrhuloxia also feeds on blooming saguaro cacti, likely eating the flowers’ nectar and pollen. It catches grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, stinkbugs, cicadas, weevils, and cotton cutworms. Back to top


Nest Placement

ShrubPyrrhuloxias build nests in dense brush such as mesquite, gray thorn, elderberry, or paloverde. They nest in more open habitats than Northern Cardinals do. The nest itself is placed 5–15 feet off the ground, resting insecurely on small twigs away from the trunk and main branches.

Nest Description

The female constructs the nest, gathering materials from within the territory, while the male stays in the trees and sings. She builds a neat, compact cup, 3 inches across and 1.5 inches deep, using thorny twigs, strips of bark, and coarse grass. She lines it with rootlets, strips of bark, horsehair, plant fibers, spiderwebs, feathers, and tiny plant stems.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:2-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.8-1.1 in (2.1-2.8 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.8 in (1.6-2 cm)
Incubation Period:14 days
Nestling Period:10-13 days
Egg Description:Grayish to greenish white, with pale gray or brown markings (very similar to eggs of the Northern Cardinal).
Condition at Hatching:Grayish brown skin with bright yellow bill and bright red mouth-lining.
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Ground ForagerPyrrhuloxias make short flights by alternating a few wingbeats and a glide, making an undulating flight path. In the fall and winter Pyrrhuloxias forage for seeds in mixed flocks. In late February and early March, the flocks start to break up and the males become aggressive. They establish territories and patrol the boundaries, singing at prominent perches and chasing intruders. Males court females by giving a distinctive call, approaching her with a wing-fluttering sound, bowing the head, and sometimes offering a piece of food. Once nests are in progress, females join their mates to thwart intruders. Pyrrhuloxias remain territorial until the end of the breeding season, in late summer. Mates may stay together year round, but no one knows if they continue their relationship from one year to the next. Predators of Pyrrhuloxias and their nests include feral and domestic cats, Ferruginous Pygmy-Owls, and Greater Roadrunners.Back to top


DecliningPyrrhuyloxia populations declined by 1.5% per year between 1966 and 2014, resulting in a cumulative decline of 53%, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 3 million birds, with 63% living in Mexico and 37% in the U.S.. They are a U.S.-Canada Stewardship Species and rate a 12 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Pyrrhuyloxia is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Populations likely declined during the twentieth century as millions of acres of desert scrubland in the Southwest were cleared for agriculture and urbanization. Some of the Pyrrhuloxia’s habitat is safeguarded within national wildlife refuges, parks, and other protected areas.Back to top


Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

North American Bird Conservation Initiative. (2014). The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center (2014b). Available from

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Tweit, Robert C. and Christopher W. Thompson. (1999). Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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