The pyrrhuloxia (Cardinalis sinuatus), or desert cardinal, is a medium sized songbird in the cardinal family found in southwestern United States and Mexico. It grows to an average length of 21 cm (8.3 in) and a weight between 24-43 g (0.8-1.5 oz). It is closely related to the northern cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis). The male pyrrhuloxia is gray to grayish-brown with a red crest and face, as well as a red stripe running down its front and a reddish tail and wings. The female is more gray all over, with red sometimes on the crest, around the eyes and on the wings. Although the male is easy to distinguish from the all red northern cardinal, the females look more similar. The pyrrhuloxia has a longer crest and a yellow and more parrot-like rounded bill, whereas the northern cardinal has a red and pointier bill.
Diet and habitat
The pyrrhuloxia is typically found in desert scrub, dry grasslands, open mesquite thickets and woodland edges. It often prefers to stay close to stream beds and may move closer to lusher habitats and water during winter time. Seeds take up a large portion of its diet, but it does also eat fruit and insects. In spring and summer it will get most of its water from consuming insects. It forages in large flocks in winter that can number up to 1,000 individuals.
Male pyrrhuloxias establish territories before the breeding season, which starts in mid-March and ends in August. They will sing quite often and act aggressively towards intruders. Females are courted by males, who have to sing a distinct call, approach her with a bowing head and sometimes give her food. Once a breeding pair is established the female will begin the creation of the nest, as well as take part in defending the territory.
The nest is a cup-shaped structure made up of twigs, grass and strips of bark. It is placed on small twigs in dense shrub, quite often well concealed. The female lays 2-4 eggs, which she incubates for 14 days before they hatch. The chicks have bright yellow bills with red mouth-lining. Both parents feed the young. Chicks leave the nest after 10-13 days, but it may take up to a month before they are fully fledged.
It is estimated to be around 3 million pyrrhuloxia, with almost two thirds of the population residing in Mexico. Due to an increase in agricultural practices and urbanization, the pyrrhuloxia has seen a slight decline in southwestern United States. There are still no major threats to the species and it is listed as least concern on the IUCN Red List.