Phainopepla nitensphainopepla

Geographic Range

Phainopeplas can be found in central California, southern Nevada, southern Utah, southern New Mexico, and western Texas. South to Baja and into Mexico. During the winters, these birds are found in southern California, southern Nevada, central Arizona, southern New Mexico and southern Texas.(Reader's Digest, 1998)


The Phainopepla is found throughout desert ecosystems. They are primarily found in washes, riparian areas, and other habitats that support arid scrubs. If they are found near coastal areas, they prefer oak chaperral and riparian oak woodlands. (Reader's Digest, 1998)

Physical Description

On average, the Phainopepla reaches a length of 16 cm. Their bills are short and thin. They have have a dark crest with the males having an entirely black plumage, while the females have a grey plumage. During flight, white wing patches are visible. They have a very long tail and the juveniles look very similiar to that of the female. (Reader's Digest, 1998)


Phainopepla's breeding habitat is that of a successional-scrub, usually in mesquite brush lands. They are known to nest in the early spring. The eggs are grayish-white or pinkish, and are spotted with black, pale lavender, or gray. The eggs are incubated by both the male and female for up to fifteen days. The young are taken care of for eighteen to nineteen days by both parents before leaving the nest. (Reader's Digest, 1998)


The Phainopepla has a unique relationship with its main food source, mistletoe berries. Mistletoe berries are dependent on the bird to plant them on the branch of a tree. It does this by eating the berry and digesting the seeds, yet not harming them. The bird's droppings, which contain the seeds, will hit a branch and then the seed will start to germinate. When there is an abundance of mistletoe berries, Phainopeplas will congregate in the hundreds; otherwise, they are hard to find. (Reader's Digest, 1998)

Communication and Perception

Food Habits

The Phainopepla's diet consists of the berries of mistletoe(Phoradendron macrophyllum). When these berries are hard to find they consume small insects. (Reader's Digest, 1998)

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

The Phainopepla does not seem to directly affect humans.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

The Phainopepla does not seem to directly affect humans.

Conservation Status

(Reader's Digest, 1998)

Other Comments

The Phainopepla's existence varies year to year. They depend on their very unstable food source, mistletoe berries. (Reader's Digest, 1998)


Christen Lima (author), Milford High School, George Campbell (editor), Milford High School.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


uses sound to communicate

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


Found in coastal areas between 30 and 40 degrees latitude, in areas with a Mediterranean climate. Vegetation is dominated by stands of dense, spiny shrubs with tough (hard or waxy) evergreen leaves. May be maintained by periodic fire. In South America it includes the scrub ecotone between forest and paramo.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate

desert or dunes

in deserts low (less than 30 cm per year) and unpredictable rainfall results in landscapes dominated by plants and animals adapted to aridity. Vegetation is typically sparse, though spectacular blooms may occur following rain. Deserts can be cold or warm and daily temperates typically fluctuate. In dune areas vegetation is also sparse and conditions are dry. This is because sand does not hold water well so little is available to plants. In dunes near seas and oceans this is compounded by the influence of salt in the air and soil. Salt limits the ability of plants to take up water through their roots.


animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


uses touch to communicate


uses sight to communicate


1998. World of Birds. New York: Reader's Digest.