Monday, March 29, 2021


While in San Angelo State Park, just west of the center of Texas, I saw a bird that I thought was a female cardinal. It had the same brown feathers with red highlights. 
Later, after spending time at an area with a number of different bird feeders, I set out for the car following the wrong trail (going the opposite direction). Then when the car didn't come, I realized I must have taken the wrong trail and self-corrected, going cross-country in a slightly different direction and going even further away from the car. To make a long story short, I finally got an idea of the correct direction and set out again. During that walk I saw two birds that were kind of stalky looking with a crest. I assumed they were Bohemian waxwings, a bird I'd never seen before. Only after getting home and looking at my photos did I learn that they were pyrrhuloxia, and that the birds I'd seen earlier and thought were female cardinals were pyrrhuloxia as well. 

The main visual differences between the pyrrhuloxia and female cardinal is that the pyrruloxia has a yellow bill, gray plumage and a more massive parrot-like bill (which Wikipedia says is "diagnositic"), while the female cardinal has a smaller red bill and a more brown plumage. 
This is a female northern cardinal I saw in Caprock Canyon.

This is a female pyrrhuloxia I saw in San Angelo SP while I was lost. 

This is a male pyrrhuloxia. 
Actually, the pyrrhuloxia is one of three different species of cardinal and is also known as the "desert cardinal" as it is found in the southwestern states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, as well as the woodland edges of Mexico (see the map below, from Wikipedia). In addition to the northern cardinal, the cardinal we think of by that term, there is a vermilion cardinal found in Colombia and Venezuela. 
The male pyrrhuloxia has a red face mask and a red belly stripe which the female lacks. The male below is stunningly beautiful. It appears that males vary in terms of how red the belly stripe and face mask are. The one below is very red while other photos I've seen of males have substantially less red and are identified as male. 

I'd seen the name "pyrrhuloxia" before, but didn't have any recollection of what it looked like. This was another fun find from our trip to Texas. 


  1. That is one gorgeous bird. I'm glad there was a reward for getting lost on the trail, and two points for being able to spell that name. Wow.

  2. One just visited my feeder in North Georgia!! How’s that possible?