The Masked Cardinal is a medium, slim passerine species of the genus Paroaria, whose colors consist of black, white and red. It has a distinct red forehead, flat crown and throat that extends down onto the upper breast. The scientific name for Paroaria nigrogenis comes from both the Latin and a Tupi name. Paroaria is derived from a Tupi name for a small, red and grey bird, whereas nigrogenis is Latin for "black cheeks" (Jobling 2010). Together, the scientific name for this species refers to its physical appearance.
Does not co-occur with other members of its genus or otherwise simliar species. Although the primary colors of all the Paroaria spcies consist of black, white and red, the Masked Cardinal has a distinct red malar and throat that extends down to its upper breast, forming a "bib" and its lores and ear coverts are covered with a much larger patch of black. The Masked Cardinal and Red-capped Cardinal (P. gularis) were once considered as the same species, but genetic and external morphological analysis show that these two taxa are distinct species (Dávalos and Porzecanski 2009). One of the morphological differences between the two is that P. gularis has a black, not a red "bib" as in P. nigrogenis. The lores and ear coverts of P. gularis are also not covered as broadly in black as P. nigrogenis (Dávalos and Porzecanski 2009, Jaramillo 2011).
Adult: A medium-sized tanager with a flat crown and a short, rounded occipital crest (Jaramillo 2011). The forehead and crown of the Masked Cardinal is red whereas the lores and ear coverts are black, forming a broad black cheek-patch (ffrench 1991). The malar and throat is also red and the red continues down to the upper breast, forming a red "bib". The rest of the bird is mostly white and black. The white area of this species includes the belly, breast, and flanks, and extends from the breast up to side of the neck and nape, completely surrounding the lower border of red (Jaramillo 2011). The nape and upper parts, together with the upper wing and tail is entirely black. Both female and male are physically alike in color from a human visual perspective.
Juvenile: The juvenile of this species is described to be similar to the adult, but the head is a dull orange with a brownish wash (Jaramillo 2011). The entire underparts are known to be creamy and buffy, with grey legs, feet and bill (Restall et al. 2007). The eyes of the juvenile are described to be pale brown.
Immature: The immature is described to be brown from the top of the head and onto the upperparts of the body (ffrench 1973). The red of the head is described to be bold irregular spots. Similar to the adult, the upper mandible is black but pale grey below. The feet and legs also appear to be grey (Restall et al. 2007).
There is currently no information on the molt of the Masked Cardinal. Information on molt in Tanagers as a whole is very limited, but generally the juveniles have similar plumages to the future adult plumages, just less vibrant (Ryder and Wolfe 2009). Tanagers that have been studied have either a Complex Basic Strategy or Complex Alternative Strategy (Ryder and Wolfe 2009). However, most tanagers only molt once a year (Isler and Isler 1987), and this pre-basic molt likely occurs after the breeding season (Isler and Isler 1987, Ryder and Wolfe 2009) Many species have been found to breed in subadult plumage (Isler and Isler 1987). Although the juvenile and immature plumage is described for the Masked Cardinal (Restall et al 2007), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for its species.
Bill: The upper mandible of this species is black whereas the lower mandible is whitish or horn-colored (ffrench 1991, Jaramillo 1991)
Iris: Intense orange (Jaramillo 2011)
Legs: Black (Jaramillo 2011)
Length, both sexes: 16.5 cm (6.5 in) (Jaramillo 2011)
Mass, both sexes: 23 g (Jaramillo 2011)