Scientific name: Phainopepla Nitens
Classification: Perching bird
Size: Body length - approximately 20 centimeters (7 to 7 ¾ inches), Weight - approximately 24 grams


The male and female phainopepla are dimorphic, meaning that they differ in appearance. The male is a glossy black, while the female is dark gray. Both sexes have a short, thin bill, a crest of feathers on the head, a long tail, red eyes, and white wing patches visible during flight.



The phainopepla is found in desert, shrubland, riparian, and woodland habitats. They are generally associated with areas supporting desert trees bearing mistletoe. In Nevada, these trees typically are mesquite, catclaw acacia, and juniper.



Phainopepla occur in the southwest united states (southern and central California, southern Nevada, Arizona, southern Utah, southern new Mexico, and western and southern Texas) south to Baja California and into Mexico.


Natural history:

Populations in the northern part of the range migrate south for the winter. Phainopepla travel in small flocks except during the nesting season when they occupy territories. They will congregate in large numbers when abundant mistletoe berries are present. A symbiotic relationship exists between the phainopepla and the mistletoe, a parasitic plant on many small trees. The phainopepla eat the mistletoe berries and digest the pulp. After passing through the bird’s digestive system, the seeds from the berries are deposited on the branches of host trees where they germinate and grow.


Food habits:

The phainopepla diet consists of insects, fruits, and berries, especially mistletoe berries.



Breeding occurs in the late winter and early spring. The nest is shaped like an open cup and constructed primarily by the male. One to three broods are laid per year with two to tree eggs per brood. The eggs are incubated for about 14 – 15 days by both parents. Young are cared for by both parents and leave the nest in about 18 days.



The phainopepla is a Nevada department of wildlife state-protected species and is a bureau of land management sensitive species


Reason for status:

The main threat to the phainopepla is habitat loss due to urban and some agricultural land development, fires, off-road vehicle damage, illegal cutting of mesquite for fuel-wood and construction of gravel pits.


Management & conservation:

Protection of mesquite habitat is essential to preserving phainopepla. The phainopepla is a lead species on the Clark county multiple species habitat conservation plan, a plan that is designed to benefit wildlife while accommodating growth in urban Las Vegas. This plan was exacted to prevent future listings of wildlife species as “endangered” or “threatened”. Population trends of the phainopepla are currently being researched in Nevada.


Fun facts:

  • The phainopepla is in a family of birds called “silky flycatchers” because of the silky look of their plumage.
  •  Male phainopepla are very protective of their mistletoe berries.