Monday, August 11, 2014

Phainopepla at Palomar Mountain

Phainopepla
Male Phainopepla. Palomar Mountain, California. July 13, 2014. Greg Gillson.
I really like these birds. They are unassuming and inquisitive, but still a bit shy. I wish my photos were a bit better. All-black birds aren't easy to photograph. They are a member of a group of 4 primarily Central American birds called "silky flycatchers." They are on the checklist next to Cedar Waxwing and not related to the other flycatchers. The name is quite the tongue-twister!

"Phainopepla" means shining robe in Greek. Indeed, males are glossy black, females grayer. Plumage is loose and fluffy. They have crests and a large tail, as well as white wing patches. The eyes are red and bill small but wide. Their call is an easily imitated whistled "whit!" somewhat similar to the call of Swainson's Thrush.

They are desert birds. I think of them most often from my visits to Arizona back in the 1970's and 1980's. They are found especially in the Sonoran Desert in mesquite trees where they eat mistletoe berries and insects.

According to The Encyclopedia of North American Birds (Terres, 1980), Phainopeplas in southern California breed in the desert in March and April and then move to riparian chaparral of the coastal slope to breed again in June. We had one wintering locally at our home in San Marcos that I saw a few times last December and January.

Phainopepla
Female Phainopepla. Mission Trails Park, San Diego, California. April 20, 2014. Greg Gillson.