Photo: A pyrrhuloxia, commonly known as a desert cardinal, was observed and photographed by Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Dan O’Malley.
No one would confuse Jefferson Davis Parish in southwest Louisiana with the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico, but that didn’t matter to one desert cardinal.
During the Bird Count held December 18, 2015, Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Dan O’Malley located the desert dweller. He is a biologist with department’s Louisiana Natural Heritage Program.
O’Malley spotted the pyrrhuloxia, which is commonly known as a desert cardinal, on Wild Road south of Welsh in Jefferson Davis Parish. It is the first time this species’ presence has been recorded in Louisiana.
O’Malley was observing a mixed flock of birds on a wooded roadside when he noticed the pyrrhuloxia while using his binoculars. Once he identified the bird, he attempted to photograph it to document the sighting but it flew away.
He played a recording of the pyrrhuloxia call, and the bird reappeared. He was then able to photograph it. Since the sighting and notification of the birding community, a number of observers have also encountered the pyrrhuloxia.
Pending acceptance by the Louisiana Bird Records Committee, the pyrrhuloxia will bring the official list of birds of Louisiana to 480 species. The Bird Records Committee is a panel of ornithologists who certify the sighting based on validity of documentation provided.
The pyrrhuloxia is closely related to the northern cardinal, but the species is distinguished from the female northern cardinal by a short, stubby and rounded yellow bill, as well as a long, pointed red crest and overall gray coloration. Few records of the species exist east of Texas.
The Christmas Bird Count is an annual, one-day survey of all birds in a 15-mile diameter that is conducted by professional and amateur ornithologists. There are 28 active Bird Count circles in Louisiana.
Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries staff participates in these surveys through the State Wildlife Grants Program.
— Contributed by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.