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Introducing the Spectacular South American Cardinals – Part 1

Four species of Cardinal native to South America – the Red Crested, Dominican (Pope), Yellow-Billed and Yellow (Green) – are well-established in private aviculture, and, unlike the red Northern Cardinal, all may be legally kept in the USA.  Colorful, hardy and with a melodious voice, South American Cardinals make a wonderful addition to the collections of those with a bit of softbill-keeping experience.

Today I’ll introduce the group, and will move on to captive care next time.

Red Crested Cardinal (Paroaria coronata)

A scarlet crest, pure white breast and black wings lend a most distinctive air to this hardy beauty.  The best-known of South America’s cardinals, it is at home along forest edges and in wooded fields, farms and parks.

Red Crested Cardinals were frequent visitors to a feeder I set up while working in Venezuela, where they are also popularly kept as pets.  Observing them in the wild caused me to modify the care of those I kept back at home (more on that next time).

Dominican or Pope Cardinal (Paroaria dominicana)

Limited in range to northeastern Brazil, the Pope Cardinal is an immensely popular aviary bird in its homeland.  Beautifully clad in cherry red, white and black, it is somewhat more high strung than its relatives, but settles in well to quiet, well-planted aviaries or bird rooms.

Yellow Billed Cardinal (Paroaria capitata)

This species lacks the typical cardinal head crest but is none-the-less a very attractive bird.  One of the calmest of the clan, it makes an ideal introduction to cardinal-keeping and may be housed with other peaceful softbills and large finches.

Yellow or Green Cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata)

Olive green with a yellow tail and jet black streaks on the throat and crest, the Yellow Cardinal make a most striking appearance.  Native to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina, it is not well known in US aviculture but, being both cold-hardy and unaggressive, has much to recommend it.   

Further Reading

North America’s Northern or Virginia Cardinal is popular in European collections; please see The Northern Cardinal for information on its care and natural history.


About Frank Indiviglio

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I believe that I was born with an intense interest in animals, as neither I nor any of my family can recall a time when I was not fascinated by creatures large and small. One might imagine this to be an unfortunate set of circumstances for a person born and raised in the Bronx, but, in actuality, quite the opposite was true. Most importantly, my family encouraged both my interest and the extensive menagerie that sprung from it. My mother and grandmother somehow found ways to cope with the skunks, flying squirrels, octopus, caimans and countless other odd creatures that routinely arrived un-announced at our front door. Assisting in hand-feeding hatchling praying mantises and in eradicating hoards of mosquitoes (I once thought I had discovered “fresh-water brine shrimp” and stocked my tanks with thousands of mosquito larvae!) became second nature to them. My mother went on to become a serious naturalist, and has helped thousands learn about wildlife in her 16 years as a volunteer at the Bronx Zoo. My grandfather actively conspired in my zoo-buildings efforts, regularly appearing with chipmunks, boa constrictors, turtles rescued from the Fulton Fish Market and, especially, unusual marine creatures. It was his passion for seahorses that led me to write a book about them years later. Thank you very much, for a complete biography of my experience click here.
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