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IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A crested songbird of the deserts and arid woodlands of the southwestern United States and Mexico, the Phainopepla is unique in taxonomy, distribution, and behavior. It is particularly notable for its enigmatic pattern of breeding twice each year, in two different habitats.

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At a GlanceHelp

Both Sexes
7.1–8.3 in
18–21 cm
11.4 in
29 cm
0.6–1 oz
18–28 g
Other Names
  • Phénopèple luisant (French)
  • Jilguero negro, Capulinero negro (Spanish)

Cool Facts

  • The Phainopepla, when pursued by predators or handled by humans, mimics the calls of other birds; imitations of at least 13 species have been recorded.
  • An individual Phainopepla eats at least 1,100 mistletoe berries per day, when they are available.
  • The name "Phainopepla" (pronounced fay-no-PEP-la) comes from the Greek for "shining robe," a fitting characterization of the shiny, jet-black plumage of the adult male.
  • The Phainopepla exhibits strikingly different behaviors in its two habitats. In the desert, it is territorial, actively defending nesting and foraging sites, while in the woodlands it is colonial, with as many as four nesting pairs sharing one large tree.
  • The Phainopepla rarely drinks water, even though research indicates that it loses about 95 percent of its body mass in water per day. Instead, it gets the water it needs from its diet of mistletoe.



Desert, riparian woodlands, and chaparral.



Mistletoe berries, other berries, and flying insects.


Nesting Facts
Clutch Size
2–4 eggs
Egg Description
Round. Light grayish, with small dark speckles.
Condition at Hatching
Helpless with sparse white down, skin grayish black.
Nest Description

Small, shallow, woven cup of twigs and fibers, placed on a tree limb or fork, or in a clump of mistletoe, typically 2-5 m (6.6-16.4 ft) above ground.

Nest Placement



Foliage Gleaner

Picks berries from mistletoe clusters. Catches insects on the wing, sometimes together with other Phainopeplas. Perches on tops of trees and shrubs.


status via IUCN

Least Concern

Habitat loss from conversion of desert riparian areas for agricultural use has led to reductions in the number and size of breeding populations. It is not, however, listed as threatened or endangered, and is increasing in some areas.


  • Chu, M., and G. Walsberg. 1999. Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens). In The Birds of North America, No. 415 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.

Range Map Help

Phainopepla Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings