Rare Earthtones Logo
Spacer Spacer
Center for Biological Diversity Home

PHAINOPEPLA } Phainopepla nitens

RANGE: Southwestern United States, Mexico

STATUS: Phainopeplas are considered Common, but Critically Imperiled in Utah and Imperiled in Nevada.

THREATS: Habitat loss from conversion of desert riparian areas to farmland

The phainopepla’s name comes from the Greek word for “shining robe,” an apt description of the shiny, jet-black plumage of the adult males. These southwestern songbirds are noticeable for their jaunty crest, long tail, bright-red eyes, and upright posture when they perch. Their favorite food is the berries of desert mistletoe, a parasite that grows in ironwood and other desert trees; a single bird will eat more than 1,000 of these berries a day. As you might imagine, phainopeplas have to take frequent potty breaks: they spread the mistletoe seeds by using tree branches as their outhouse. They also eat other berries and catch insects in midair, and when pursued by predators or humans will mimic the calls of dozens of other birds. In the desert they’re territorial and will actively defend their nesting and foraging sites; in woodland areas phainopeplas are colonial, cooperatively sharing their nesting trees with several other pairs.

Photo © Don Getty