Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Pyrrhuloxia

Cardinalis sinuatus

This "desert cardinal" is common in dry country of the Southwest. It is similar to the Northern Cardinal in its song and behavior, and the two overlap in many desert areas. However, the Pyrrhuloxia can tolerate drier and more open habitats; it is less sedentary and more social than southwestern Cardinals, with flocks often wandering away from nesting areas in winter. The odd name "Pyrrhuloxia," formerly part of this bird's scientific name, combines the Latin term for the Bullfinch with a Greek reference to the bird's bill shape.
Conservation status Surveys indicate slight declines in population, probably as a result of habitat loss, but still widespread and common.
Family Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
Habitat Mesquites, thorn scrub, deserts. Present at all seasons in dense brush in very dry country, including mesquite groves, desert washes, lower stretches of arid canyons, dry plains with mesquite and acacia scrub, streamside brush in desert regions. In winter, also wanders into open woods, forest edges, hedgerows in farm country.
This "desert cardinal" is common in dry country of the Southwest. It is similar to the Northern Cardinal in its song and behavior, and the two overlap in many desert areas. However, the Pyrrhuloxia can tolerate drier and more open habitats; it is less sedentary and more social than southwestern Cardinals, with flocks often wandering away from nesting areas in winter. The odd name "Pyrrhuloxia," formerly part of this bird's scientific name, combines the Latin term for the Bullfinch with a Greek reference to the bird's bill shape.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • adult male
  • adult female
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly while hopping on ground; also does some foraging up in shrubs and low trees. Except when nesting, often forages in small flocks.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale grayish white to greenish white, spotted with brown and gray. Incubation is by female only, about 14 days. Male often feeds female on nest during incubation period. Young: Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10 days after hatching.


Young

Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young leave the nest about 10 days after hatching.

Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, berries. Diet is varied. Feeds on many insects, including beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers, and many others, also other arthropods. Eats many seeds, including those of weeds and grasses, and also frequently eats mesquite seeds. Feeds on berries and wild fruits, including cactus fruits. Will come to feeders for sunflower seeds.


Nesting

Male sings in spring to defend territory; at beginning of breeding season, both male and female may actively chase intruders of their own species. In courtship, male often feeds female. Nest: Placed 4-15' above the ground, usually in a thorny shrub or low tree, sometimes within a clump of mistletoe. Nest (built mostly or entirely by female) is an open cup made of thorny twigs, weeds, grass, strips of bark, lined with rootlets, plant fibers, fine grass.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Not truly migratory, but strays often show up outside breeding range during fall and winter, and flocks regularly winter in areas not occupied during nesting season.

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Migration

Not truly migratory, but strays often show up outside breeding range during fall and winter, and flocks regularly winter in areas not occupied during nesting season.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
A series of whistled notes, similar to those of Northern Cardinal, but thinner and shorter.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

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