Red-crested Cardinal

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Is the Red-crested Cardinal right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Brazilian Cardinal

Scientific name: Paroaria coronata

The basics:
The Red-crested Cardinal is by far the most popular aviary cardinal in the United States, and it's also a well-regarded pet cardinal in its South American homeland. The bird can sing, and pairs may duet, but people who keep them in small cages may be disappointed. This species sings and displays much better in a large walk-in planted aviary, where it can claim a nice-sized territory. The assertive Brazilian Cardinal does well in a mixed-species aviary where the other birds can hold their own, such as mid-sized, gentle soft-bills. All in all, this species is recommended to the well-heeled intermediate or advanced bird hobbyist who has a lot of space and doesn't need to pinch pennies.

Both sexes look alike, and both will sing, but the males are more aggressive in breeding season, and they are responsible for building the nest, so they may be sexed by behavior as well as by DNA tests.

The old pet marketplace name of Brazilian Cardinal may be falling into disuse, to be replaced by the preferred birder's English common name of Red-crested Cardinal. That's just as well, since this species is far from a Brazilian endemic. Indeed, it's easily found in central South America in Bolivia, northern Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay, not just Brazil. A successful and adaptable bird, it has also been introduced into Oahu, Hawaii, where it may be seen feeding with other introduced seed-eaters such as the Northern Cardinal.

The Red-crested Cardinal is a flashy bird with a scarlet crest, face, and bib, which contrasts nicely with the light bill, white neck, and white underparts. The upper body and wings are rather gray, so that your attention is drawn immediately to the beautiful face.

40 grams (1.4 oz.)

Average size:
19 centimeters (7.5 in.)

10 - 15 years

Behavior / temperament:
It's easy to get the wrong idea about the beautiful Red-crested Cardinal, which can gather in cooperative mixed-species foraging flocks outside of the breeding season. People who assume that these birds will remain peaceful and social all the year round are making a big mistake, since there are documented cases of territorial pairs killing smaller birds. Assume that you will need space, and plenty of it, to enjoy this species at its best.

It is unfortunate that Red-crested Cardinals have gained a reputation as a cagebird in South America, because they simply don't do well in cages, leading to problems with failure to sing or aggressive attacks. Because they are territorial, they do best with one pair to a large, well-planted mixed-species aviary with birds that can hold their own, and they have done well housed with mid-sized softbills. They could attack and even kill smaller species like the tiny waxbills. Make sure everybody has plenty of room and cover, or else consider placing each pair in its own planted flight.

Does your aviary have double doors? The Red-crested Cardinal is a well-known escape artist, and populations of escapees are breeding in Hawaii and probably in Puerto Rico. They are also seen from time to time in Florida. As you might guess, they seem to like warmer weather, and the aviary should be protected from the wet and the cold.

Anyone who has experience feeding waxbills should find it fairly easy to keep Red-crested Cardinals well-fed. The backbone of the diet is a high quality small seed mix, fresh enough to sprout – and you should test it by sprouting regularly. They will love the milky seeding heads of grasses, in addition to the sprouts. You should also supply a finely chopped salad that includes greens, apple, carrot, and broccoli, as well as eggfood and/or a high quality finch pellet that the birds will eat. As you approach the breeding season, offer plenty of tiny white-skinned mealworms, waxworms, small crickets, and perhaps ant pupae or fly larvae to bring them into season. You may find it worthwhile to make a small homemade insect trap, to provide them with moths and other insects to add variety.

Written by Elaine Radford

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