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Red-capped Cardinal Picture

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The Red-capped Cardinal, Paroaria gularis, is a small South American bird. It belongs to Paroaria, a genus of red-headed cardinal-tanagers in the family Thraupidae, unlike the cardinals proper which are in the Cardinalidae. They were long believed to be closer to American sparrows and placed in the Emberizidae.


The adult Red-capped Cardinal is 16.5 cm (6.5 in) long and weighs about 22 g. (0.78 oz). The nominate subspecies has a crimson head, blackish lores and ocular region, and shiny black upperparts, apart from a white partial collar extending up the neck sides from the white underparts. The throat is black, extending to a point on the upper chest. The upper mandible is black, while the lower is pale flesh-coloured. The legs are dark grey (almost black) and the iris is brownish-orange. In pattern the juvenile resemble the adults, but the upperparts are dusky-brown, the head is deep brownish-buff (darker on the cap), the bill is entirely black and the iris is pale, dull creamy-yellow.

The song is a variable, often repeated series of suweet-chu notes, and the call is a sharp chep.

Subspecies Paroaria (gularis) nitrogenis.

Paroaria gularis cervicalis has less black on the lores and eye region than the nominate subspecies described above. P. g. nitrogenis from Trinidad, north-eastern Colombia and northern Venezuela markedly differs from these two by the black ear-coverts and the red (not black) lower throat and upper chest. Additionally, its lower mandible is typically whitish, but this is not entirely consistent, as it occasionally is pale flesh-coloured. This distinctive taxon possibly is a different species, as suggested by the lack of hybridization with P. g. gularis in the limited area of overlap in southern Venezuela. If recognized as a separate species, Paroaria nitrogenis, the common name Masked Cardinal has been suggested.

Distribution and ecology

It occurs in lowlands of Trinidad, the Guianas, Venezuela, eastern Colombia, eastern Ecuador, eastern Peru, northern and eastern Bolivia and the Amazon basin in Brazil. In Brazil it is, except for populations in the relatively open lowlands of north-eastern Roraima and along the Branco River and lower Rio Negro, apparently largely absent from the regions north of the northern bank of the Amazon River, but these regions are generally very poorly known and its presence cannot be discounted, especially in the section between the lower Rio Negro and Rio Jari (the river on the border between Pará and Amapá).

This is a bird of swamps, mangrove, Várzea and other semi-open areas near water. It is generally common, and even occur in lightly wooded wet habitats in towns or cities (e.g. Manaus and Puerto Maldonado). The Red-capped Cardinal feeds on insects, rice and fruit. It is usually found in conspicuous pairs or family groups.

If there is a well-marked breeding season, it extends over much of the year. The Red-capped Cardinal has been recorded to breed at least from June to September in northern South America but at Sacha Lodge at the Napo River (Ecuador) an adult was seen feeding a fledgling Shiny Cowbird (a brood parasite of the Red-capped Cardinal) in late March. This suggests that breeding can also occur as early as February/March. There is no indication for a difference in breeding seasons between the Red-capped and the Masked Cardinals.

They build a shallow open cup nest, some 9-10 cm wide and 7 cm high outside with a 7 cm wide by 4 cm deep cup, in a tree or some other secure spot. For nest material, it uses rootlets, thin twigs, and ferns. The clutch is two or three eggs. These have a background color varying between whitish and dull olive and have dense dark brown flecks and blotches, heavier at the blunt end. They measure about 21-22 by 16 mm. This species is parasitised by the Shiny Cowbird (Molothrus bonariensis).


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