- Photo: Ned Harris
Their winter diet is primarily desert mistletoe berries and they are known to eat over 1100 berries per day.
The Phainopepla is a medium sized (8 inches long) crested songbird of the deserts and arid woodlands of the southwestern United States and Mexico. They are sleek long tailed birds with rounded wings and a ragged crest. The male (photograph), is glossy black with white wing patches that are distinctive in flight. The female is charcoal gray in coloration with light wing patches. Both sexes have conspicuous red eyes.
Phainopepla hunt insects from a perch on a branch, often returning to the same perch after capturing the insect. Birders refer to this hunting technique as “flycatching”. Their winter diet is primarily desert mistletoe berries and they are known to eat over 1100 berries per day. Phainopepla quickly digest the berries, excreting the sticky seeds which attach to the branch where the bird is perched. The seeds sprout and become established in the tree to continue their parasitic life cycle. This is the primary way that mistletoe spreads from tree to tree at Sabino.
Phainopepla nest at Sabino in the early spring feeding chiefly on insects and mistletoe berries. In late spring they move into cooler, wetter habitats such as Mt. Lemmon and raise a second brood. Their summer diet is primarily insects. Phainopepla exhibit strikingly different behaviors in their two habitats. In the desert, they are territorial, actively defending nesting and foraging sites. In the woodlands they are colonial, with as many as four nesting pairs sharing one large tree.
This photograph was taken in October 2008 near the dam in lower Sabino.