Tuesday, April 21, 2020

OFFBEAT NATURE NOTES #1: How to tell a Pyrrhuloxia call from a Cardinal call

Those lucky enough to live in the southwestern United States often encounter not only the beautiful northern cardinal, but also the similar-looking pyrrhuloxia, a close cousin of the cardinal that is often found in desert environs.
            Male cardinal                                               Male pyrrhuloxia

These two striking birds differ in many respects: size (cardinal is slightly bigger), overall body color, mask color (black for cardinal, red for pyrrhuloxia), beak color and shape (orange finch-like beak for cardinal, yellow parrot-like beat for pyrrhuloxia). Most folks who watch birds around here quickly learn to distinguish one from the other by appearance, but many, including experienced birders, often cannot reliably distinguish cardinal calls from those of pyrrhuloxias.

I am here to help everyone who has this problem. A few years ago, a good friend and I spent a lot of time birding locally, with special attention to these two birds' main calls. What we noticed, and what has proven to be true in at least nine out of ten instances is this:

The cardinal's main melodic call usually ends with the syllables: "CHEW CHEW CHEW."

The pyrrhuloxia's call usually ends with: "CHEWY CHEWY CHEWY."

 Often, a cardinal will simply call out the "CHEW" note; likewise, a pyrrhuloxia may intone "CHEWY," apropos of nothing.

Check this out yourself. You will most likely be amazed.