The phainopepla or northern phainopepla[2] (Phainopepla nitens) is the most northerly representative of the mainly tropical Central American family Ptiliogonatidae, the silky flycatchers. Its name is from the Greek phain pepla meaning "shining robe" in reference to the male's plumage.

Phainopepla nitens M 2.jpg
Phainopepla nitens F.jpg
Female in California, USA
Scientific classification edit
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Ptiliogonatidae
Genus: Phainopepla
S.F. Baird, 1858
P. nitens
Binomial name
Phainopepla nitens
(Swainson, 1838)
Phainopepla nitens map.svg


Male in flight showing white wing patches

The phainopepla is a striking bird, 16–20 cm (6.3–7.9 in) 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.

Range and habitatEdit

The phainopepla ranges as far north as central California with the San Joaquin Valley and southern Utah, and south to central Mexico, the interior Mexican Plateau region; the southern edge of the plateau, the transverse mountains is its non-breeding home. It is found in hot areas, including desert oases, and is readily seen in the deserts of Arizona, southern Nevada, and southern California; also the Baja Peninsula, both Baja California-(north), and Baja California Sur where they are only breeding resident birds.[citation needed] Extreme individuals have travelled as far as Canada, with one bird in 2009 reaching as far north as Brampton, Ontario, Canada.[3]


Their diet consists of berries, any small insects, fruits, vegetables. Phainopepla have a specialized mechanism in their gizzard that shucks berry skins off the fruit and packs the skins separately from the rest of the fruit into the intestines for more efficient digestion.[citation needed] So far this is the only known bird able to do this. They appear to relish the fruit of Phoradendron californicum, the desert mistletoe.


It nests in the spring. The eggs are gray or pink and speckled, and the incubation, done by both the male and female, takes fifteen days. The young will be reared by the parents for up to nineteen more days.[4]


Phainopeplas have been found to imitate the calls of twelve other species, such as the red-tailed hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) and the northern flicker (Colaptes auratus).[5]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Phainopepla nitens". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2012. Retrieved 26 November 2013.
  2. ^ Weathers, Wesley W. (1983). Birds of Southern California's Deep Canyon. University of California Press. p. 185. ISBN 0-520-04754-0.
  3. ^ "[Ontbirds] Phainopepla in Brampton". 11 November 2009.
  4. ^ "Phainopepla Species Account". Animal Diversity Web. University of Michigan, Museum of Zoology. Retrieved 25 February 2007.
  5. ^ Chu, M. (2001). "Vocal Mimicry in Distress Calls of Phainopeplas". The Condor. 103 (2): 389–395. doi:10.1650/0010-5422(2001)103[0389:vmidco];2. JSTOR 1370388.

Further readingEdit


  • Chu, M.; Walsberg, G. (1999). Poole, A.; Gill, F. (eds.). Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens). The Birds of North America. Philadelphia, PA: The Birds of North America, Inc.

External linksEdit