Fun Phainopepla Facts For Kids

Oluwatosin Michael
May 12, 2023 By Oluwatosin Michael
Originally Published on Aug 05, 2021
Edited by Jacob Fitzbright
Fact-checked by Yashvee Patel
Phainopepla facts about the silky flycatchers.
Age: 3-18
Read time: 7.0 Min

Phainopepla (phainopepla nitens) is a beautiful bird of the Southwest belonging to the family Ptiliogonatidae. Males are silky black and slender, with an elegant crest and bold white wing patches all over their bodies that can be observed when the bird takes flight.

Phainopeplas can mimic the calls of twelve other species, namely the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus). Females also look similar, possessing a subdued gray body.

These birds originated from the desert valleys of California and Arizona, where these silky flycatchers feed on mistletoe berries and in oak and sycamore woodlands. These birds of North America usually rest high in mistletoe shrubs and grab insects.

When in distress, these birds can mimic the calls of other birds. Phainopepla sounds can resemble as many as 12 different birds.

Their primary diet features mistletoe berries that grow on mistletoe, a parasitic plant. Phainopepla means 'shining robe' in Greek, talking of the bright, jet-black plumage of the adult male.

Here are some of the most interesting facts about the phainopepla for you. After reading these interesting phainopepla facts, do check our other articles on the common buzzard and the Adélie penguin.

Phainopepla Interesting Facts

What type of animal is a phainopepla?

Phainopepla (phainopepla nitens) is a bird listed under the category Animalia and is found primarily in washes and riparian areas. These silky flycatchers are also known by their scientific name Phainopepla nitens, belonging to the family Ptiliogonatidae, and can be found across Nevada south to Panama.

What class of animal does a phainopepla belong to?

Phainopepla is a bird listed under the class Aves belonging to the family Ptiliogonatidae. These North American birds are also known as silky flycatchers.

The basic diet of this species comprises mistletoe berries which are derived from desert mistletoe, a parasitic plant. Their habitats comprise desert washes with mesquite, acacia, palo verde, riparian oak trees, smoke trees, and ironwood trees.

How many phainopeplas are there in the world?

An approximate prediction of the global breeding population of these birds in North America is 3.2 million. Though the number seems satisfactory, various human activities have proven to be a threat to their existence.

The immense habitat loss from the conversion of desert riparian zones for farming practices has led to a decrease in the amount and extent of breeding and wintering populations of these North American birds.

Where does a phainopepla live?

Phainopeplas can be easily spotted in winter in desert washes with mesquite, acacia, palo verde, smoke tree, and ironwood. The phainopepla habitat in these desert trees and feed massively on the berries of the desert mistletoe, a parasite tree. These North American birds are also present in California’s oak woodlands, especially in the more temperate periods.

What is a phainopepla's habitat?

These glossy black birds' habitat is primarily located in the United States and prevalent in regions of the Sonoran Desert, the Mojave Desert, and the Colorado Desert in California, generally beneath 6,000 ft elevation. This bird prefers to nest in regions where its favorite diet mistletoe berries and insects are readily available.

Who do phainopeplas live with?

During the nesting season, single males put up a courtship circling flight relatively high in the air, and up to more than eight birds may follow them in a movable, circling pack. Often this parade commences at sunset.

Females arrive at those nest places, where males attract them with courtship feeding. When there is abundant food in California, phainopeplas seldom nest in open communities, with many nests in the same tree.

Once the nesting season is over, small crowds often meet where food is adequate. During fall and spring, loose flocks develop for migration, but most phainopeplas are isolated in winter.

How long does a phainopepla live?

As the phainopepla is seldom seen in the wild, it is hard for researchers to investigate and study them. No official report of the exact lifespan is available for this desert bird species.

How do they reproduce?

During courtship, the male phainopepla engages in attracting the female and feeding it during the spring season. Once the mating gets over, the male would create their nest in the springtime.

This bird species build the nest in the center of a mistletoe bundle or a pool of branches in such a way that it is concealed from predators. The eggs are grey or pink and spotted, and the incubation process on the eggs performed by both the male and female takes fifteen days.

The parents raise the young for up to three more weeks. The phainopepla reproduces twice a year in two distinct habitats.

What is their conservation status?

The population of these birds is considered adequate in the wild. As per IUCN, these birds have been classified under the Least Concern category of conservation status. Hence, no conservation efforts are warranted in the immediate future for the albino phainopepla.

Phainopepla Fun Facts

What do phainopeplas look like?

A Phainopepla bird on a broken branch.

Phainopepla possesses a tall crest and a long tail; the slim body feathers of the male are lustrous black with white wing patches or bordering thaareis noticeable only when it takes flight. The female is gray-colored with even light gray wing patches.

Their beaks are short and tiny and are accustomed to eating the supple fruits of the mistletoes. Their eyes are entirely red for both sexes, but the female's eyes appear to be more radiant.

How cute are they?

This bird species has glossy feathers, which makes them look attractive. Phainopepla sings with a complex note, including at least 14 different identifiable factors.

Their frequent tunes are up-slurred whistled hoots, a moody quirk, and sometimes short trilled songs. These features are pretty intriguing in a bird. A phainopepla in flight is a rare sight but these birds do look stunning when flying.

How do they communicate?

Phainopeplas communicate with the females by flying above the nest sites displaying their stunning act of fluttering their wings to show off their white patches. These silky flycatchers can also mimic the calls of at least twelve other species, including the northern flicker and the red-tailed hawk.

When touched by humans or tracked by predators, the silky flycatchers would impersonate the calls of other birds to puzzle the opponent. A phainopepla's call is essentially mimicking the calls of other birds.

How big is a phainopepla?

Both the male and female phainopepla size ranges between 7.1-8.3 in (18-21 cm) long. However, the average phainopepla wingspan is about 11.4 in (29 cm).

How fast can a phainopepla fly?

There is no official record of their flying speed. However, they live in high trees. It is assumed that they move at a reasonable speed.

How much does a phainopepla weigh?

Both the male and the female weigh within the range of 0.6-1.0 lb (17-28.3 g).

What are the male and female names of the species?

There are no distinct names for the sexes and they are known as male phainopeplas and female phainopeplas respectively.

What would you call a baby phainopepla?

Young phainopeplas are often referred to as nestlings, chicks, or juveniles.

What do they eat?

Phainopeplas are omnivores and their diet consists of fruit, especially desert mistletoe berries, and boxthorn, elderberries, redberries, juniper, and sumac fruits. Phainopepla prey on flying insects caught in short, hurrying flights.

Males and females maintain separate winter feeding regions. Phainopeplas also gather bugs, beetles, and caterpillars from plants. Nesting birds feed their young insects that are richer in protein than fruit.

Are they aggressive?

Phainopeplas might not be aggressive towards humans generally but these birds are known to get aggressive while facing any dangers. They can get aggressive towards each other during the breeding season wherein they mimic the aggressive noises made by other similar species through their call.

Would they make a good pet?

They are rarely caught in the eyes of humans and are spotted only in deserts. Moreover, their peculiar habitat and dietary requirements make having a phainopepla as a pet a complicated task.

Did you know...

When these birds are intimidated or attacked, they rely upon their behavioral modification of besieging by making a joint strike on the predator.

Phainopepla's song is essentially a multi-syllabled rambling song comprising various whistle sounds.

Phainopeplas alter their nesting schedule by the time their favored foods mature. Ornithologists assume that some phainopeplas nest in one location, then travel to another habitat and nest again during the same year.

Phainopepla nicknames include names like the silky flycatcher, desert cardinal, and black cardinal.

Phainopepla birds and berries are closely related because these birds like to feed on berries as their primary source of food.  

How many mistletoe berries can a phainopepla eat in a day?

The berries contain low nutrient content, and hence birds need to eat plenty of them. Approximately the birds may eat up to 1,100 berries in a day.

How do phainopeplas get water?

They seldom drink water, but they get a sufficient quantity of water from their daily intake of mistletoe berries.

Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created lots of interesting family-friendly animal facts for everyone to discover! Learn more about some other birds including the bee-eater and the toco toucan.

You can even occupy yourself at home by drawing one of our red-winged blackbird coloring pages.

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Written by Oluwatosin Michael

Bachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

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Oluwatosin MichaelBachelor of Science specializing in Microbiology

With a Bachelor's in Microbiology from the Federal University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Ogun State, Oluwatosin has honed his skills as an SEO content writer, editor, and growth manager. He has written articles, conducted extensive research, and optimized content for search engines. His expertise extends to leading link-building efforts and revising onboarding strategies. 

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Fact-checked by Yashvee Patel

Bachelor of Business Management

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Yashvee PatelBachelor of Business Management

Yashvee has won awards for both her writing and badminton skills. She holds a business administration honors degree and has previously interned with social media clients and worked on content for an international student festival. Yashvee has excelled in academic competitions, ranking in the top 100 in the Unified International English Olympiad and placing second in an essay-writing competition. Additionally, she has won the inter-school singles badminton title for two consecutive years.

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