Northern Cardinal VS Pyrrhuloxia: Complete Difference Explained

Northern Cardinal Vs Pyrrhuloxia

Northern cardinal or scientifically known as Cardinalis cardinalis is a mid-sized songbird from the genus Cardinalis. 

This species is found mainly in the Eastern part of the USA, from Maine to Minnesota to Texas, Southern Arizona, Southern California, and south through Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, Bermuda, and Hawaii. 

Pyrrhuloxia or desert cardinal is a mid-sized songbird, scientifically known as Cardinalis sinuatus. This species of bird is mainly found in South-west America and Northern Mexico. 

In this article, we’ll mainly focus on how to differentiate northern cardinals and desert cardinals according to their appearance, voice, gender, habitat, behavior, and diet. 

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Difference Table

CharacteristicsNorthern CardinalPyrrhuloxia
Weight of the bird22-42 grams22-42grams
Size of the bird8.3- 9.1 inches7-8 inches
MaleMale cardinals are brilliant red overall, with a reddish bill and black face around the bill portion only. The male is generally grey with a rosy red breast, red wings and tail, a red crest, and a red face.
FemaleFemales are pale brown overall with warm reddish touches in the wings, tail, and crest.Females look similar to males but a little paler and lack red breasts and faces.
HabitatsThey are usually found along dry desert streams, creek beds, and at the edges of woodlands.Generally found at Woodland edges, towns, suburban gardens, thickets, and desert washes.

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Appearance Difference: 

There is always confusion if a female northern cardinal and pyrrhuloxia grown-up male species are viewed together. 

Here we’re going to find out the difference in appearance in both the genders of the species: 

Northern cardinal: 

Male – The male cardinals are a brilliant red color overall, with a reddish bill and that portion of the face around the bill is black colored. 

Female – The females are pale brown colored overall with warm reddish touches in the wings, tail, and crest.


Male – The male birds are generally grey with a rosy red breast, red wings and tail, a red crest, and a red face.

Female – The females look similar to males but are a little paler and lack red breasts and faces. 

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Female Breeding Difference

Northern Cardinal breeding system: They start preparing for the nest 1-2 weeks prior to building it. 

The pair generally searches for a suitable position and starts building the nest with small branches, vine tangles, leaves, etc. 

Both the male and female collect the materials for the nest. The female generally lays 2-5 eggs at a time with a width of 1.7-2 cm.

The color of the eggs varies between greyish white, buffy white, or greenish white speckled with pale grey to brown and the incubation period lasts for 11-13 days. The babies are born and the nesting period is for 7-13 days. 

Pyrrhuloxia breeding system: They nest in more open habitats than the northern cardinals, mainly on shrubs of greythorn, and elderberry. 

The females alone construct the nests by collecting the building materials while the males sing, sitting on the branches. 

She generally lays 2-4eggs which are of 1.6-2cm width. The eggs are very similar to that of northern cardinals, with greyish to greenish white, with pale grey or brown markings. The incubation period is 2 weeks and the nesting period is 2 weeks. 

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Juvenile Difference: 

Northern Cardinal juvenile condition: Baby northern cardinal is fluffy with light brown color and a short brown colored chest.

Pyrrhuloxia juvenile condition: After hatching from the eggs, the baby pyrrhuloxia has greyish brown skin with bright red surrounding mouth and bright yellow bill. 

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Behaviour Difference: 

Northern Cardinal behavior: This species mainly stay on the branches and sing but they forage near the trees. 

During the breeding season, they stay in pairs but in winters, they form a group and stay together for survival and food. 

The pairs may or may not stay together after a particular season. Cardinals forage with other species like a goldfinch, pyrrhuloxia, sparrows, etc. They fly for short distances. 

Pyrrhuloxia behavior: During the winters, this species forms a colony to survive. They collect food and stay together but once the spring arrives, they break and the males become aggressive to find a partner. 

The males start to sing and impress and once a female joins them, they start to prepare a nest for mating.

After the breeding season passes, the pair may not stay together. They are also short-distance flyers.

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Voice/Speech Difference: 

Northern Cardinal: Both the males and females can sing or that is their general communication voice. 

The songs can last for 2-3 seconds and sound like a string of two parted whistles or clear-down slur which is quite loud and can speed up or end in a slow thrill. 

Pyrrhuloxia: Pyrrhuloxia’s voice is similar to that of the Northern Cardinal with a sharp, metallic cheek or chip note and in a lower pitch. 

Other communications include a chattering contact call, a series of soft chipping notes during foraging, and a deep call used by begging fledglings. Pyrrhuloxia often sings during flying.

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia habitat Difference: 

Habitat of Northern Cardinal: They generally habitat in dense shrubby areas like regrowing forests, backyards, overgrown fields, and densely planted areas. They sing from high branches of trees. 

Habitat of Pyrrhuloxia: They habitat in deserted areas like savannas, woodlands, and deserted shrublands. During the nonbreeding seasons, they fly to the urban habitats with the human population. 

Northern Cardinal vs Pyrrhuloxia Diet Difference

Diet for northern cardinals: They mainly feed on seeds and fruits. The seeds can be sunflower, grapes, wheat, or grass. When these are not available, they feed on insects like grasshoppers, butterflies, spiders, and moths. 

Diet for pyrrhuloxia: They are omnivorous birds that forage near the ground and mainly eat seeds, fruits, and large insects. 

Pyrrhuloxias also feed on blooming saguaro cacti, likely eating the flowers’ nectar and pollen. It also catches grasshoppers, caterpillars, beetles, stink bugs, and cicadas. 


Both northern cardinals and pyrrhuloxia are beautiful birds with great features like singing. 

They can be of similar appearance but this article will help you to differentiate them on different bases like fooding, breeding, and habitat. 

Hope you enjoy this article and collect all the new facts and information. 

Thanks for reading! 

Related Articles You May Like

Scroll to Top