Pyhruloxia courtesy of Mark Cunningham
Spring is in the air and now is a great time to watch for local birds getting ready to nest and sing away all across our city and the surrounding desert. One of our most beautiful resident birds is the Pyrrhuloxia, a very close relative of the Northern Cardinal often seen near water in the desert shrub of Texas and here in the Chihuahuan Desert. The song of the Pyrrhuloxia is just as beautiful as the song of the Cardinal and you can listen to one here.
When I lived in Big Bend National Park the Pyrrhuloxia was a common resident in the housing area at Panther Junction Park Headquarters. I will never forget the day in 1976 when James Schlesinger, the former secretary of defense under Presidents Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford, came to the park with a group of his friends for a VIP bird watching trip to stalk the elusive Colima Warbler and other rare species. Chief Park Naturalist Frank Deckert knew how much I loved birdwatching so I was assigned to be his guide on an overnight horseback trip to Boot Canyon. Before we headed to the Chisos Basin we spent some time looking at birds outside the Panther Junction Visitor Center. While Secretary Schlesinger was watching a Pyrrhuloxia singing on a Torrey yucca Chief Ranger Phil Koepp called me on the radio to send him right away to see some extremely rare Lucifer Hummingbirds at a bird feeder nearby. When I approached Secretary Schlesinger and said we needed to go he said “Rick, these Pyrrhuloxias may be mashed potatoes to you, but not to me!” He was right as most people living in the US have never seen a Pyrrhuloxia since they live mainly in the southwest.
Left to right: Unknown, Rick LoBello, James Schlesinger, Joe Kuban.
On your next trip to the Zoo listen and watch for some of our native birds as you walk the over one mile of pathways across Africa, the Americas and Asia. Our Animal Curator John Kiseda has compiled a list of species he has recorded at the Zoo over the past thirty years. Great places to watch for Pyrrhuloxias in El Paso include Keystone Heritage Park and Rio Bosque Wetlands Park.
Rick LoBello, Education Curator
Cover and bottom – Mick Thompson, Wikipedia Creative Commons