RIO GRANDE VALLEY, Texas – A bright red cardinal perches atop an Allthorn in the crisp cool of the early morning with a perfectly blue South Texas sky highlighting his brilliant plumage.
The cardinal is named after the bright red colors worn by the cardinals of the Roman Catholic Church who took their title from the Latin cardinals meaning important.
Sharing the brush country domain with the cardinal this fine morning is his close relative the pyrrhuloxia. Although, the pyrrhuloxia does not have quite as fiery red feathering as the cardinal he is a strikingly handsome bird with flashes of red on his chest and face topped with a jaunty crest.
The pyrrhuloxia derives its name from the Greek word pyrhinos meaning red and loxos meaning crooked so it’s the reddish bird with the crooked bill.
While it is still too early for nesting season, it is never too early to strengthen the pair bond as this male cardinal dutifully brings food to his mate.
The female cardinal is somewhat drab compared to her mate, but she possesses a subtle beauty with her soft brown feathering tinged with highlights of red.
The female pyrrhuloxia is also less resplendent than her mate, wearing little or no red except for hints of color on her thighs and wing lining.
Primarily seed and insect eaters, this time of year the cardinals and pyrrhuloxia are busily dinning on the fruiting tasajillo.
In the spring, they will avail themselves of the tasty tunas or fruits of the horse crippler cactus.
The cardinal and pyrrhuloxia are fascinating denizens of the chaparral and certainly add distinctive splashes of color to the arid brush country.