A Phainopepla perched on a branch.

The Phainopepla, or Phainopepla nitens, is the most northerly representative of the mainly tropical Central American family Ptilogonatidae, the silky flycatchers.


The Phainopepla is a striking bird, 16-20 cm long with a noticeable crest and a long tail; it is slender, and has an upright posture when it perches. Its bill is short and slender. The male is glossy black, and has a white wing patch that is visible when it flies; the female is plain gray and has a lighter gray wing patch. Both sexes have red eyes, but these are more noticeable in the female than the male.


Phainopeplas have been found to imitate the calls of twelve other species, including as the Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo lineatus), and the Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus).


Its chief food is the berries of the Desert Mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum), but since these are only available seasonally in the northern parts of its range, it also eats the berries of other trees such as juniper and elderberry, and insects, hawking for them in flight like a flycatcher. It is an important vector for the mistletoe seeds. When there enough mistletoe berries they will often congregate in the hundreds.


It nests in the spring. The eggs are dray or pink and speckled. Incubation, done by both the male and female, generally takes fifteen days. The chicks are reared by the parents for up to nineteen more days.


The Phainopepla ranges as far north as central California and southern Utah, and south to northern Mexico. It is found in hot areas, including desert oases, and is often seen in the deserts of Arizona and southern California.

Further ReadingEdit


  • Chu, M., and G. Walsberg. 1999. Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens). In The Birds of North America, No. 415 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.


  • Aukema JE. Ph.D. (2001). Dispersal and spatial distribution of the desert mistletoe, Phoradendron californicum, at multiple scales: Patterns, processes and mechanisms. The University of Arizona, United States -- Arizona.
  • Chu MC. Ph.D. (1999). Ecology and breeding biology of phainopeplas (Phainopepla nitens) in the desert and coastal woodlands of Southern California. University of California, Berkeley, United States -- California.
  • Crampton LH. Ph.D. (2006). Ecological determinants of the distribution, abundance and breeding success of phainopeplas (Phainopepla nitens, Cl. Aves) at the northern edge of their range. University of Nevada, Reno, United States -- Nevada.
  • Crouch JE. Ph.D. (1939). STUDIES ON THE LIFE HISTORY OF PHAINOPEPLA NITENS LEPIDA VAN TYNE AND CORRELATED CHANGES IN THE TESTES. University of Southern California, United States -- California.
  • Krueger JB. M.S. (1998). A comparative study of honey mesquite woodlands in southern Nevada and their use by phainopeplas and other avian species. University of Nevada, Las Vegas, United States -- Nevada.
  • Larson DL. Ph.D. (1991). Ecology of desert mistletoe seed dispersal. University of Illinois at Chicago, United States -- Illinois.
  • Laudenslayer WFJ. Ph.D. (1981). HABITAT UTILIZATION BY BIRDS OF THREE DESERT RIPARIAN COMMUNITIES. Arizona State University, United States -- Arizona.
  • Spurrier SE. Ph.D. (2004). Community interactions of phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens), blue palo verde (Cercidium floridum), and desert mistletoe (Phoradendron californicum) in the Mojave Desert during a severe drought. University of Arkansas, United States -- Arkansas.
  • Walsberg GE. Ph.D. (1975). THE ECOLOGY AND ENERGETICS OF SOCIAL SYSTEMS IN PHAINOPEPLA NITENS. University of California, Los Angeles, United States -- California.


  • Anderson BW & Ohmart RD. (1978). Phainopepla Utilization of Honey Mesquite Forests in the Colorado River Valley USA. Condor. vol 80, no 3. p. 334-338.
  • Atwood ND, Pritchett CL, Porter RD & Wood BW. (1980). Terrestrial Vertebrate Fauna of the Kaiparowits Basin Utah and Arizona USA. Great Basin Naturalist. vol 40, no 4. p. 303-350.
  • Aukema JE & del Rio CM. (2002). Where does a fruit-eating bird deposit mistletoe seeds? Seed deposition patterns and an experiment. Ecology. vol 83, no 12. p. 3489-3496.
  • Casto SD. (1976). Host Records and Observations of Quill Mites Acarina Syringophilidae from Texas USA Birds. Southwestern Entomologist. vol 1, no 4. p. 155-160.
  • Chu M. (2001). Heterospecific responses to scream calls and vocal mimicry by phainopeplas (Phainopepla nitens) in distress. Behaviour. vol 138, no 6. p. 775-787.
  • Chu M. (2001). Vocal mimicry in distress calls of Phainopeplas. Condor. vol 103, no 2. p. 389-395.
  • Chu M, Koenig WD, Godinez A, McIntosh CE & Fleischer RC. (2002). Social and genetic monogamy in territorial and loosely colonial populations of Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens). Auk. vol 119, no 3. p. 770-777.
  • Congdon JD & Tinkle DW. (1982). Energy Expenditure in Free Ranging Sagebrush Lizards Sceloporus-Graciosus. Canadian Journal of Zoology. vol 60, no 6. p. 1412-1416.
  • Haemig PD. (1986). Nesting of the Phainopepla on Santa Cruz Island California USA. Western Birds. vol 17, no 1.
  • Larson DL. (1996). Seed dispersal by specialist versus generalist foragers: The plant's perspective. Oikos. vol 76, no 1. p. 113-120.
  • Leger DW & Carroll LF. (1981). Mobbing Calls of the Phainopepla Phainopepla-Nitens. Condor. vol 83, no 4. p. 377-380.
  • Powell BF & Steidl RJ. (2002). Habitat selection by riparian songbirds breeding in southern Arizona. Journal of Wildlife Management. vol 66, no 4. p. 1096-1103.
  • Visser GH, Dekinga A, Achterkamp B & Piersma T. (2000). Ingested water equilibrates isotopically with the body water pool of a shorebird with unrivaled water fluxes. American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory Integrative and Comparative Physiology. vol 279, no 5. p. R1795-R1804.
  • Walsberg GE. (1975). Digestive Adaptations of Phainopepla-Nitens Associated with the Eating of Mistletoe Berries. Condor. vol 77, no 2. p. 169-174.
  • Walsberg GE. (1978). Brood Size and the Use of Time and Energy by the Phainopepla. Ecology. vol 59, no 1. p. 147-153.
  • Walsberg GE. (1980). The Glossy Appearance of a Blackbird Phainopepla-Nitens Thermal Effects. Journal of Thermal Biology. vol 5, no 3. p. 185-187.
  • Walsberg GE. (1982). Coat Color Solar Heat Gain and Conspicuousness in the Phainopepla Phainopepla-Nitens. Auk. vol 99, no 3. p. 495-502.
  • Walsberg GE. (1983). A Test for Regulation of Nest Humidity in 2 Bird Species. Physiological Zoology. vol 56, no 2. p. 231-235.
  • Walsberg GE. (1986). Thermal Consequences of Roost-Site Selection the Relative Importance of Three Modes of Heat Conservation. Auk. vol 103, no 1. p. 1-7.
  • Walsberg GE. (1993). Thermal consequences of diurnal microhabitat selection in a small bird. Ornis Scandinavica. vol 24, no 3. p. 174-182.
  • Weathers WW & Nagy KA. (1979). Daily Energy Expenditure in Phainopepla-Nitens Simultaneous Doubly Labeled Water and Time Budget Estimates. American Zoologist. vol 19, no 3. p. 1004.
  • Weathers WW & Nagy KA. (1980). Simultaneous Doubly Labeled Water Tritium and Oxygen-18 Labeled and Time Budget Estimates of Daily Energy Expenditure in Phainopepla-Nitens. Auk. vol 97, no 4. p. 861-867.