Image of the Month January 2021: Pyrrhuloxia

Photographer: Lev Frid   Destination: USA - The Lower 48

There are certain bird names that really tie the tongue or make you wonder, and perhaps none provokes folks in the US quite so much as Pyrrhuloxia. The name refers to both this bird’s red color and its crooked bill, and what a beauty it is. 

One of just three members within the genus Cardinalis, the Pyrrhuloxia differs from its relatives (among other ways) in having a horn-yellow bill. The Northern Cardinal is known far and wide, well beyond its range even, for its striking appearance. The Vermilion Cardinal of the Caribbean coast and Guajira Peninsula in Venezuela and Colombia is perhaps the least familiar but is equally or more scorching red and with an even longer crest. But while the Pyrrhuloxia may appear less shockingly red overall, it is just as dapper as its congeners, if not more, and like them features rich liquid notes in its song and utters staccato metallic chip notes when irritated or alert. 

Known at times as the Desert Cardinal for the habitat it prefers in the southwestern US and Mexico, it takes up perches in mesquite and desert scrub, where it will sing out to proclaim its presence. Not a shy bird, but certainly a showy one, it is a regular feature on our tours to Arizona and Texas, where other birds in the cardinal family are well enjoyed. Some of you know what others may not yet, which is that this family has expanded or at least been re-arranged quite a lot in recent years. Today all species in the genus Piranga (Scarlet, Summer, and Flame-colored Tanagers, etc.) and all those in the genus Passerina (Indigo and Lazuli Buntings, etc.) are now known to be cardinals (note the lower case "c"). And boy, are they stunners. On our Texas trips a number of these are prominently featured. 

One of the showiest birds on the continent and one that always makes headlines when it shows up outside of its usual haunts, the Painted Bunting is quite an easy bird to find as we work away through and around the Edward's Plateau. As we get further west we may hear the "per-di-dick" of the Western Tanager, or could soak up the vibrant blue and rosy purple of the scarce Varied Bunting.

Few places delight a birder's senses the way Texas does with its wide open spaces, and high volume and diversity of birds. It is big country with great wildlife and an incredibly varied landscape. From the migration spectacles along the humid gulf coast, to the avian pearls of the Hill Country (think Golden-cheeked Warbler), to the wild and bleak beauty of the west in Big Bend and the Trans-Pecos, we expect you’ll like what you see.

Let’s get you where you want to go.