Similar to the female and juvenile Northern Cardinal, the
Pyrrhuloxia's thick, strongly curved, parrot-like orange-yellow
bill helps identify it. The male is 7-1/2 to 8-1/2 inches long
and is grey overall, with red on the face, crest, wings, tail
and underparts. The female shows little or no red; the bill is
a dull yellow. This bird is fairly common in thorny brush and
mesquite thickets of dry streambeds, desert, woodland edges and
ranchlands. The song is a liquid whistle, thinner and shorter
than the song of the Northern Cardinal. The call is a sharp "chink".
In a loosely built cup of grass, twigs, and bark strips concealed
in dense, thorny bush, 3 or 4 white eggs, lightly speckled with
brown, are laid.
The Pyrrhuloxia is a resident from Arizona, southern New Mexico,
and southern Texas southward. It is casual to southeastern California.
These birds feed on seeds and insects and benefit cotton fields
by destroying great numbers of cotton worms and weevils. When
approached, a pair will fly up to a high watch post, erect their
crests, and sound a loud alarm. The name Pyrrhuloxia comes from
Latin and Greek words meaning "bullfinch with a crooked
bill." Some feel it would be more appropriate to call it
the Gray Cardinal.