Cardinalis sinuatus is distributed in the southwestern United States and in northern Mexico (Tweit and Thompson 1999). In the United States Pyrrhuloxia can be found in Baja California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas (Oberholser 1974), southwestern Kansas, southern Colorado, and western Oklahoma (Tweit and Thompson 1999).
Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )
occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Year-round
Global Range: RESIDENT: from central Baja California, Sonora, southern Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western and south-central Texas south to southern Baja California, northern Nayarit, northeastern Jalisco, northern Michoacan, Queretaro, southern San Luis Potosi, and southern Tamaulipas (AOU 1983).
There is a sexual dimorphism in coloration. Male Cardinalis sinuatus are mainly gray with red located on the face, crest, wing, and tail (Scott 1983). The female is grayish brown, and is sometimes mistaken for a female Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis (Oberholser 1974). The females have red highlights on the thighs and the wing linings (Tveten 1993). The bill is heavy and hooked in both the male and the female (Tveten 1993). In the male, the bill is orange yellow (Scott 1983), while the female's bill is a duller yellow (Tveten 1993). Both the male and female have the diagnostic tall crest on the head (Tveten 1993). The juvenile Pyrrhuloxia, male or female, resembles the female except the bill is darker (Oberholser 1974).
Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry
Sexual Dimorphism: sexes colored or patterned differently
Average mass: 32 g.
Average basal metabolic rate: 0.396495 W.
- Oberholser, H. 1974. The Bird Life of Texas. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press.
- Scott, S. 1983. Field Guide to the Birds of North America. Washington D.C.: The National Geographic Society.
- Tveten, J. 1993. The Birds of Texas. Fredericksburg, TX: Shearere Publishing.
Length: 22 cm
Weight: 37 grams
Pyrrhuloxia inhabit arid habitats such as mesquite thickets and desert creek beds (Tveten 1993).
Terrestrial Biomes: desert or dune ; forest
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Arid brush, thorn scrub, weedy fields, riparian thickets (AOU 1983). BREEDING: Nests in mesquite, thorny bushes, 1.5-2.5 m above ground.
Non-Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species do not make significant seasonal migrations. Juvenile dispersal is not considered a migration.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Pyrrhuloxia forage on the ground for seeds of bristlegrass, doveweed, sandbur, pancium, sorghum, and pigweed (Oberholser 1974). The birds will also eat fruits of cactus and insects including grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, stinkbugs, and cicadas (Oberholser 1974).
Comments: Eats insects in summer; seeds, fruits, and catkins in winter (Terres 1980).
Male breeding territory usually about 0.5-1.5 ha (Terres 1980). Territories in south Texas varied from 1 to 8 hectares (Lemon and Herzog 1969).
Life History and Behavior
Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical
Status: wild: 97 months.
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
The breeding season varies with the environment, but it usually begins around mid-March and ends in mid-August (Baicich and Harrison 1997). The behavior of these birds changes during the breeding season. Territories are established and defended during the breeding season. The males will feed his mate during courtship and incubation (Tveten 1993).
The female builds a small nest of twigs, weeds, and bark either in the mesquite brush or on the ground against the trunk (Bacich and Harrison 1997).
The female lays 2-3 grayish-white eggs with gray and brown speckles (Tveten 1993). The incubation period lasts for about 14 days. Throughout the incubation period, about 14 days, the female is fed by the male (Baicich and Harrison 1997).
The newly hatched young have pale gray downy feathers. The nestlings will not leave the nest for 10 days. During this time both the male and female will tend to the young, providing nutrition and protection (Baicich and Harrison 1997).
Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous
Average time to hatching: 14 days.
Average eggs per season: 3.
- Bacich, P., C. Harrison. 1997. A Guide to the Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds. San Diego: Natural World Academic Press.
- Tveten, J. 1993. The Birds of Texas. Fredericksburg, TX: Shearere Publishing.
The nesting of this species is fairly well known, but there is a lot more to learn! Especially from the southern portions of its range.
For a video of this species at its nest see: Video1
Eggs laid March-July (peaking about May). Clutch size 4-5 (usually 3-4). Incubation 14 days, by female. Young tended by both parents, leave nest at about 10 days.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Cardinalis sinuatus
Below is the sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen.
Other sequences that do not yet meet barcode criteria may also be available.
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Download FASTA File
Statistics of barcoding coverage: Cardinalis sinuatus
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 2
Species With Barcodes: 1
Populations of Pyrrhuloxia have declined due to loss of habitat across the Southwestern United States (Tweit and Thompson 1999).
IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: least concern
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5 - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
The pyrrhuloxia or desert cardinal (Cardinalis sinuatus) is a medium-sized North American song bird found in the American southwest and northern Mexico. This distinctive species with a short, stout bill, red crest and wings, closely resembles the northern and the vermilion cardinals which are in the same genus.
Its name of pyrrhuloxia - once part of its Latin name - comes from Greek terms describing its coloration (πυρρος = pyrrhos = reddish or orange) and the shape of its bill (λοξος = loxos = oblique). The common name, desert cardinal, refers to it inhabiting the southwest, and often arid regions, of the North American continent.
The desert cardinal is a medium-sized song bird where the length for both sexes is approximately 8.3 in (21 cm), while the average weight is 0.8–1.5 oz (24–43 g).
The most obvious differences between the male desert cardinal and the northern cardinal are in their coloring. The desert cardinal is predominantly brownish-gray with a red breast, a red mask, and a yellow parrot-like bill that is stout and rounded. The females of the two species resemble each other much more closely, but the shapes of their bills are diagnostic. The songs of the two species are identical, though the pyrrhuloxia's is not quite as loud. This cardinal retains the distinctive long pointed red crest present in all species.
Distribution and habitat
The pyrrhuloxia is a year-round resident of desert scrub and mesquite thickets, in the U.S. states of Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas and woodland edges in Mexico. It occupies the southwestern half of Texas, approximately the southern third of New Mexico, and southeastern region of Arizona. Its range flows further south inhabiting areas from the west to east coast of Mexico north of the Sierra Madre del Sur, Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt and Isthmus of Tehuantepec, whilst excluding the Sierra Madre Occidental. An individual of the species has reportedly been seen as far away from its dominant range as Costa Mesa, California in Orange County.
This cardinal is relatively nonmigratory, though it may occasionally stray slightly north of its usual range. The pyrrhuloxia prefers habitat along stream beds. In areas where the range of the pyrrhuloxia and northern cardinal overlap, hybridization may occur between them. There seem to be no conflicts between the species as none have yet been reported.
In breeding season, songs are used to establish and defend territories. One song has a sharp, clear, "wha-cheer, wha-cheer" while another is characteristic of a metallic "quink." Females also sing, but they use softer and duller notes. A short "cheep" or "chip" is a regular contact call given by both sexes while foraging.
The pyrrhuloxia's diet consists of seeds, fruits and insects. While foraging, the desert cardinal will snatch insects from trees as well as pick seeds predominantly from the stalks of grasses and similar plants. It also seeks out cactus fruit for consumption. This bird is a benefit to cotton fields as it assists in eating populations of cotton worms and weevils. This species of cardinal also visits bird feeders and in the winter forages in huge flocks, sometimes numbering in the thousands.
The breeding season for this cardinal usually begins in mid-March, ending in mid-August. As the breeding season approaches, territories are established and defended by the male. The male defends the territory by chasing away intruders and from a good vantage point, singing. Where both the desert and northern cardinal breeding territories overlap, no inter-species conflicts have been observed.
The desert cardinal places its nest in dense shrub, often concealed. The nest is small and forms a bowl or cup-like shape made up of grass, twigs or bits of tree bark. Clutches of two to four eggs are most common while the eggs are whitish with specks of green or gray. During an incubation period of two weeks, the male brings food to the female. At hatching the chicks are helpless and have a bright yellow bill with red lining around the mouth. The chicks fledge in approximately ten days while both male and female tend to the young. The young bird can wait for up to a month before fully fledging, becoming independent and feeding in large flocks. During this period the bird will achieve complete growth.
Relationship with humans
- BirdLife International (2012). "Cardinalis sinuatus". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
- Encyclopædia Britannica. "desert cardinal". Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- Cornell Lab of Ornithology. "Pyrrhuloxia". Cornell University. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- The Birds of North America - Online. "Pyrrhuloxia". NHPTV. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- The Aviary at Owls.com. "Pyrrhuloxia". Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- University of Michigan Museum of Zoology: Animal Diversity Web. "Cardinalis sinuatus: pyrrhuloxia". University of Michigan. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
- New Hampshire Public Television: NatureWorks. "Pyrrhuloxia - Cardinalis sinuatus". NHPTV. Retrieved 2011-02-25.
Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Frequently has been placed in genus PYRRHULOXIA (see Banks and Browning  for nomenclatural notes).