Red-Crested Cardinal Fact Sheet

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Popular in many parts of the world as a pet bird because of its striking plumage and beautiful song, the red-crested cardinal is aptly named, but these birds are not closely related to the often more familiar, all-red northern cardinal.

Common Name: Red-Crested Cardinal, Brazilian Cardinal

Scientific Name: Paroaria coronata

Scientific Family: Thraupidae (formerlyEmberizidae)

Appearance:

  • Bill: Conical shape, light gray or pale with darker gray-black culmen


  • Size: 7.5 inches long with 7.75-8.5-inch wingspan, tall red crest, relatively slender build
  • Colors: Red, white, gray, black, orange, brown
  • Markings: Genders are similar with a bright red head and throat, and the red coloration narrows to a point on the white breast. The upperparts, wings and tail are silver-gray with black centers on the wing feathers and a faint black line at the edge of the red face near the auriculars, though the line is not always visible. The underparts are plain white, with the white stretching up the sides of the neck to form a thick but incomplete collar. The eyes are brown with a black pupil, and the legs and feet are blackish-gray.

    Juveniles are similar to adults but the crest is shorter and where adults show red, juveniles show dull orange or orange-brown coloration, with stronger brown or gray-brown on the forehead. Juveniles also have a much darker bill.

    Species is monotypic.

Foods: Insects, seeds, fruit, berries (See: Granivorous)

Habitat and Migration:


These brightly colored passerines prefer forest edges, open woodlands and grasslands with scrub patches or scattered trees, often in shrubby areas or riparian zones.

In urban or suburban areas, red-crested cardinals can often be found on golf courses or in parks or gardens.

These birds do not migrate, and are found year-round in suitable habitats from central Bolivia stretching south to Paraguay and into northeastern and central Argentina, as well as throughout all of Uruguay and in the extreme southern part of Brazil. Because they are popular cage birds, red-crested cardinals may also be seen as vagrants or escaped pets in other parts of South America, southern Florida and elsewhere around the world.

Red-crested cardinals have been introduced to Hawaii where they are common on all the major islands, though they are less widespread on the Big Island. These birds have also been introduced to Puerto Rico, and more limited feral colonies are found in Japan and Taiwan.

Vocalizations:


These colorful birds have a melodious song with a variety of musical chirps and whistles of varied pitches. A single song lasts just 1-3 seconds, but these birds are prodigious singers and may repeat the song over and over for a longer sequence. Mated pairs will sing duets to communicate.

Behavior:


These birds are often seen in pairs or small groups, though they will form larger flocks outside the breeding season. They typically forage on the ground or low in shrubbery, and in urban areas they may become quite tame, seeking handouts from humans. Males can be aggressive during the breeding season, however, vigorously chasing away intruders. Both genders may use their crests to show emotion, and in flight, these birds follow an undulating path.

Reproduction:


These are monogamous birds that mate after courtship displays that include strutting, fanning their tales and bill clacks. The male builds a cup-shaped nest using grass and twigs, lining the cup with finer materials such as rootlets, fur and plant fibers. The nest is positioned in the crook of a tree, usually 6-20 feet above the ground.

The greenish, oval-shaped eggs are evenly covered with dark specks, and there are 2-5 eggs in each brood. The female parent incubates the eggs for 14 days, and after the altricial young hatch, both parents feed and care for the hatchlings for 12-18 days. After leaving the nest, the young birds may continue to stay with the family group for up to a year until they have their own mates.

A mated pair may raise 1-2 broods each year. They are often targeted by shiny cowbirds for brood parasitism, though red-crested cardinals are well able to recognize unwanted eggs and usually discard the cowbird eggs without difficulty.

Where their ranges overlap, these birds may hybridize with yellow-billed cardinals.

Attracting Red-Crested Cardinals:


These birds will readily visit bird-friendly backyards that include ground-feeding areas sprinkled with birdseed, and berry bushes are the ideal landscaping to attract red-crested cardinals, particularly in winter. Avoiding insecticide use during the breeding season can ensure these birds have an adequate food source to nurture young birds.

Conservation:


These birds are not considered threatened or endangered, though they can be susceptible to habitat loss. Because these birds are popular as pets, bird poaching can be a much greater threat, but has not yet had a significant impact on overall population numbers.

Similar Birds:

  • Red-Capped Cardinal (Paroaria gularis)
  • Yellow-Billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata)
  • Red-Cowled Cardinal (Paroaria dominicana)
  • Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

Photo – Red-Crested Cardinal © Thomas Shahan
Photo – Red-Crested Cardinal – Juvenile © Thomas Shahan

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