A pair of cardinals

Not a mated pair of Northern Cardinals, as the title might imply, but a pair of closely related cardinal cousins — the Northern Cardinal and the Pyrrhuloxia or Silver Cardinal.

Northern Cardinal

I really didn’t expect to see cardinals in the Sonoran desert, but Ventana Canyon outside of Tucson has a rushing stream that runs all year (as well as an 80 foot waterfall), so there is an amply supply of lush vegetation and insects to keep any bird happy.


Hidden in a thorny mesquite bush, this male Pyrrhuloxia sports a long, red crest, and has a red face and breast stripe in contrast to his metallic gray body.

Pyrrhuloxia look like their closely related (same genus) cousins, but have a much bigger, parrot-like beak.  They are truly well-adapted desert birds, able to eat a wide variety of seeds and fruits, as well as insects, and tolerate the extreme heat of the Sonoran desert summers well.  Their summer diet of insects even enables them to remain somewhat independent of water, as they rarely visit waterholes then.

Pyrrhuloxia may mate for life, and though territorial and asocial during the breeding season, they join up in huge flocks of 1000 birds during the winter.  What a sight that must be!!

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