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.
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.