JEFF DAVIS PARISH, LA (WVUE) - No one would confuse Jefferson Davis Parish in southwest Louisiana with the deserts of the southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. But Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries biologist Dan O'Malley discovered a desert dweller there.
O'Malley, a biologist with the LDWF's Louisiana Natural Heritage Program, was part of the Lacassine-Thornwell Christmas Bird Count on Dec. 18 when he spotted a pyrrhuloxia, commonly known as a desert cardinal, on Wild Road south of Welsh in Jefferson Davis Parish. It is the first time this species has been recorded in Louisiana.
Pending acceptance by the Louisiana Bird Records Committee (LBRC), it will bring the official list of birds of Louisiana to 480 species. The LBRC is a panel of ornithologists who certify the sighting based on validity of documentation provided.
The pyrrhuloxia, closely related to the northern cardinal, is normally found in southwestern U.S. and northern Mexico. 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.
O'Malley was observing a mixed flock of birds on a wooded roadside when he noted the pyrrhuloxia with binoculars. Once he identified it, he attempted to photograph the bird 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.
The Christmas Bird Count (CBC) 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 CBC circles in Louisiana. Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries staff are able to participate in these surveys on an annual basis via funds provided by the State Wildlife Grants Program.