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South American Cardinals, Part 2 – the Green or Yellow Cardinal

Please see Part 1 of this article for information on the natural history and care other South American Cardinals.  Today we’ll take a closer look at a species that is much sought-after by experienced aviculturists, the Green or Yellow Cardinal, Gubernatrix cristata.

Range and Status

Yellow CardinalThe Green Cardinal departs from the usual red/black cardinal color pattern, being strikingly clad in yellow-olive and black and sporting a long, bushy black crest and black bib.

It was once found in open woodlands and savannas throughout much of Argentina and Uruguay, and in parts of Brazil.   Populations have now declined drastically due to over-collection and the conversion of its habitat to cattle pastures and Eucalyptus plantations.  The Green Cardinal is also known to interbreed with the Diuca Finch (Diuca diuca).  As this finch is much more common than the Green Cardinal, it is expected that continued hybridization may dilute the cardinal’s gene pool and place the species at further risk.

Today the Green Cardinal is found in only a few areas of Argentina (i.e. near Buenos Aires) and is likely extinct in Brazil.  The Uruguayan population is estimated at less than 300 birds.  Fortunately, it breeds well in private collections, and is also being reared by wildlife agencies throughout its former range.  It is listed on Appendix II of CITES.

Captive Accommodations

Green cardinals are quite active, and are best housed in an outdoor aviary or bird room.  They are fairly cold-hearty, but cannot abide damp conditions…a warm, dry shelter is needed during the winter in temperate regions.

Green Cardinals get along well with Whydahs, Java Rice Birds, Weavers and similar finches and softbills, although mated pairs can be somewhat aggressive when nesting.  In zoo exhibits, I’ve had them chase off Sun Bitterns that ventured too close, but they did not harass the intruders once they moved off.


Breeding is likely if the birds are properly housed and fed well (please see below).  Green Cardinals prefer to nest in a bush with dense foliage, but will sometimes accept an open-fronted nest box.

The chicks should be removed once they have fledged and are no longer being fed by their parents, lest they be driven off by the male.  In most locales, 2 clutches per season may be expected.


In common with many predominantly seed-eating birds, Green Cardinals will thrive on a rather simple diet.  However, a rich, varied diet is a must if they are to achieve breeding condition and remain in good color.

The base of the diet can be comprised of a mix of  Finch Seed/Dehydrated Fruit, Parakeet Seed and a small amount of high-quality Wild Bird Food.

Softbill Diet, fresh sprouts, Egg Food, live insects (mealworms, crickets, waxworms and wild-caught moths, beetles, grasshoppers, etc.), Canned Insects, fruit tree buds and fresh greens (i.e. kale, dandelion) should also be provided regularly.  Grit and cuttlebone should always be available.

High protein foods are particularly important in bringing the birds into breeding condition, and insects are essential in the successful rearing of chicks.  Pairs kept in outdoor aviaries no doubt benefit greatly from the insects that find their way into the enclosure.

Further Reading

Video of captive Green Cardinals feeding their chick.

Read more about the Green Cardinal’s natural history here.


Yellow cardinal image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Lip Kee Yap and Snowmanradio

One comment

  1. avatar

    some of your south american green cardinals have been spotted in Poteet Texas. none of us had ever seen any before and had no idea where they came from. is it possible a private collector turned them loose in that dry, arid area? several are coming to my friends bird feeder outside of Poteen, Texas.

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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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