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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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

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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

See a fully interactive migration map for over 450 bird species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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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.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Pyrrhuloxia

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate Threats Near You

Climate threats facing the Pyrrhuloxia

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.