Conservation of the Yellow Cardinal

(Gubernatrix cristata)

by Marisol Domínguez & Bettina Mahler

The Yellow Cardinal (Gubernatrix cristata) is a passerine endemic of southern South America, which is currently categorized as Endangered. This species is the only representative of the monotypic genus Gubernatrix, which is included in the group of tanagers, together with other genera of granivorous birds like Diuca, Paroaria and Lophospingus, within the Family Thraupidae.

Female and male Yellow Cardinal (M. Domínguez).

In the past, this species was widely distributed in the thorny deciduous shrubland forests of central Argentina ('Espinal' region), most of Uruguay and part of southern Brazil. However, for over a century there has been a continuous removal of individuals, mainly males, to commercialize them as cage birds. In addition to the trapping for the cage-bird market, other threats for this species are the conversion of their forest habitat to cattle pasture and the hybridization with the Common Diuca Finch (Diuca diuca).  This has caused a marked decline in range and population size. Yellow Cardinals are believed to be now extinct in Brazil and population size has been estimated to be less than 300 individuals in Uruguay. In Argentina, its distribution is discontinuous with main populations in the provinces of Corrientes, La Pampa and Río Negro, and its population is estimated to be between 1.500-3.000 individuals.

The overall objective of this project is to provide new information that could be useful in a national action plan to improve the current situation of the Yellow Cardinal. For this purpose, we study the characteristics and degree of threat of the remaining populations of Yellow Cardinal in Argentina and determine whether they are differentiated in their genetic, morphological or behavioral characteristics.

With this work we intend to contribute to improve current conservation actions, particularly by providing the Argentinean Government with the best possible locations to release illegally captured individuals, which are frequently confiscated by the Government through its Office of Environment.


We have conducted three field seasons (2011, 2012 and 2013) during which we collected very important data on the specie. For example, we discovered shiny cowbird and botfly parasitism in Yellow Cardinal nests and evaluated the effect on its reproductive success.
We are currently studying Yellow Cardinal populations in the provinces of Corrientes, La Pampa and San Luis and intend to incorporate the remaining populations in Argentina soon.

Brood parasitism: Yellow Cardinal nest with one Shiny Cowbird egg.

Botfly parasitism on Yellow Cardinal chicks.

Yellow Cardinal chicks.

Photos: M. Domínguez.

Related publications


Domínguez M, Ayarragaray M, and Lapido R. Nidos de Cardenal Amarillo (Gubernatrix cristata) en la provincia de San Luis, Argentina. Nuestras Aves 60: 8-10 (2015).

Dominguez M, Reboreda JC and Mahler B. Impact of Shiny Cowbird and boty parasitism on the reproductive success of the globally endangered Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata. Bird Conservation International - doi: 10.1017/S095927091400015X. Published online (2014).

Domínguez M. Investigación: Amenazas para el Cardenal Amarillo en Corrientes. Boletín de los Esteros Número 15 (December 2012).

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