Yellow Cardinal Gubernatrix cristata


Justification of Red List Category
The trapping of this species for the cagebird market, compounded by habitat loss, has probably resulted in such very rapid declines that it qualifies as Endangered. Remaining populations are now small and fragmented.

Population justification
The total population is estimated to number 1,500-3,000 individuals, roughly equivalent to 1,000-2,000 mature individuals (Martins-Ferreira in litt. 2007).

Trend justification
A very rapid and on-going population decline is suspected owing to chronic exploitation for the bird trade as well as habitat loss and fragmentation.

Distribution and population

Gubernatrix cristata was formerly widespread and common throughout much of Argentina and Uruguay, with a few records from Rio Grande do Sul, Brazil, as a non-breeder. In Argentina, it is now rare except very locally in San Luis, Buenos Aires, La Pampa and Río Negro, and especially between General Conesa, San Antonio Oeste and Viedma. There are further important populations in Pay Urbe and Estancia San Antonio, Corrientes; the Montiel area, Ceibas and Estancia la Choza, Entre Ríos, and Chancaní, Córdoba (Chebez et al. 1998). There are pre-1975 records from Salta, Tucumán, Santiago del Estero, Santa Fe and San Juan, and it has been listed without details for Formosa, Chaco, La Rioja and, mistakenly, Misiones (Chebez 1996). In Uruguay, it was historically known from 13 departments, but recently from only Paysandú, Río Negro, Florida and Rocha (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999, G. Rocha in litt. 1999). In 1999, the Uruguayan population was estimated at fewer than 300 mature individuals, mostly concentrated in the río Uruguay basin (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999), while any populations in southern Brazil are probably now extinct (C. Martins-Ferreira in litt. 2007). Two specimens collected from Paraguay in 1905 probably refer to escaped cagebirds (Hayes 1995). The total global population was estimated at 1,500-3,000 individuals in 2007 (C. Martins-Ferreira in litt. 2007).


It inhabits open woodland (including Prosopis woodland), savanna, scrub and shrubby steppe, up to c.700 m. Breeding occurs in the austral spring, with nests containing three eggs found in November.


Constant and chronic exploitation as a songbird for the cagebird market remains the most significant threat (Pessino and Tittarelli 2006). It presumably suffers from timber extraction for firewood and furniture (Chebez 1994) and, especially, rapid afforestation with Eucalyptus plantations (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999). Conversion to cattle pasture may be another potential threat. Hybridisation with Common Diuca-finch Diuca diuca has been recorded (Bertonatti and Guerra 1997, Bertonatti and López Guerra 2001). In NE Argentina, Shiny Cowbird Molothrus bonariensis and botfly (Philornis sp.) parasitism respectively affect one third and one fifth of nests (Domínguez et al. 2015).

Conservation actions

Conservation Actions Underway
CITES Appendix II. In Argentina, it occurs in Sierra de las Quijadas, Lihue Calel and El Palmar (where it is possibly extinct) national parks, and Chancaní Provincial Reserve (Wege and Long 1995, Chebez et al. 1998). In Uruguay, a captive-breeding programme is being established (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999) and in southern Brazil a captive-breeding programme with specimens seized from poachers is being established (ARKive).

Conservation Actions Proposed
Protect the Montiel area and Pay Urbe (J. C. Chebez in litt. 1999). Designate protected areas in the core of its Argentine range. Protect Prosopis woodlands in west Uruguay (A. B. Azpiroz in litt. 1999). Draft and enforce legal measures against trappers. Organise awareness campaigns to sensitise consumers.  Extend and develop captive breeding efforts.


20 cm. Large, strikingly patterned finch. Male has yellow-olive upperparts with blackish streaking on back. Long, black, bushy crest and bib, both broadly bordered yellow. Yellow-olive breast and flanks with yellow centre to belly. Yellow tail with black central rectrices. Female duller above. Grey cheeks, breast, and sides of belly, with paler centre. Some yellow on rear crown but otherwise, crest and black bib bordered white. Voice Loud and musical series of 4-5 whistles.


Text account compilers
Capper, D., Mazar Barnett, J., Symes, A., Sharpe, C.J., Pople, R., Temple, H., Williams, R., Khwaja, N.

Claramunt, C., Martins-Ferreira, C., Azpiroz, A., Chebez, J., Rocha, G.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Gubernatrix cristata. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/02/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 05/02/2023.