Cardinalis sinuatus

  • Version: 2.0 — Published January 1, 1999
  • Robert C. Tweit and Christopher W. Thompson

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The Introduction Article is just the first of 11 articles in each species account that provide life history information for the species. The remaining articles provide detailed information regarding distribution, migration, habitat, diet, sounds, behavior, breeding, current population status and conservation. Each species account also includes a multimedia section that displays the latest photos, audio selections and videos from Macaulay Library’s extensive galleries. Written and continually updated by acknowledged experts on each species, Birds of North America accounts include a comprehensive bibliography of published research on the species.

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Pyrrhuloxia.
Adult female Pyrrhuloxia; Texas, March

Definitive Basic plumage; female Pyrrhuloxia; McAllen, TX; March 2006.; photographer Gerrit Vyn

Adult male Pyrrhuloxia; Texas, March

Definitive Basic plumage.  McAllen, TX; March 2006.; photographer Gerrit Vyn

The Pyrrhuloxia is a permanent resident of open desert scrub in the southwest-ern United States and northern Mexico. The closely related Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) overlaps most of the Pyrrhuloxia's range, although the cardinal is found in wetter habitats. The life histories of these 2 species have many similarities, and their vocalizations are difficult to distinguish.

The social behavior of the Pyrrhuloxia changes between breeding and nonbreeding seasons. In fall and winter, this species often forages in mixed flocks, hunting for seeds. In Texas and Arizona, flocks begin to break up in late February and early March, when males become aggressive, establish territories, and attract mates. A male establishes and maintains a territory by patrolling around the territory boundary, singing at prominent perches, and chasing intruders. Territorial behavior continues until the end of the breeding season in late summer. Where both Pyrrhuloxias and Northern Cardinals breed, territories of the 2 species may overlap, and no interspecific conflicts have been observed.

Young Pyrrhuloxias leave the nest well before growth is complete, and the fledgling period can be as long as a month before the young become fully independent and join feeding flocks.

The Pyrrhuloxia is uncommon to fairly common in suitable habitat throughout its range. In the United States, population densities are higher in Texas than in southern Arizona and New Mexico. Half a century ago this species was reported as common to abundant in some places. Habitat loss throughout its range has reduced the population.

The common name Pyrrhuloxia is derived from combining of the names of 2 bird genera, Pyrrhula (bullfinches) and Loxia (crossbills), which are derived, respectively, from the Greek words pyrruos, meaning “flame-colored or red,” and loxuos, meaning “crooked” (Gruson 1972).

Most of our knowledge of the behavior and breeding ecology of the Pyrrhuloxia comes from the work of Patrick J. Gould (Gould 1961, Gould 1961) in Arizona and Roger R. Wilke (Wilke 1995) in Texas.

Recommended Citation

Tweit, R. C. and C. W. Thompson (1999). Pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.