Phainopepla

By Dan Weisz

Desert Hackberry plants offer their fruit to a wide variety of birds in the fall and early winter in our desert. We have quite a few of these plant throughout the Clusters’ common area.  The berries are abundant beginning in October.  Combine that with the return of beautiful Phainopepla bird to the lower desert and we have opportunity to witness nature at her best.  Phainopepla (pronounced fay-no-PEP-lah) are striking birds who resemble Northern Cardinals but the males are jet black, their name coming from the Greek for “shining robe”.  During the summer, they move to higher elevations to avoid the heat of the desert.  They are known for eating mistletoe berries and can consume over 1000 berries per day.  When mistletoe is not fruiting, they will eat other berries along with insects.

When you mix a “wreath” of desert hackberry fruit…..

and a nearby hungry Phainopepla……..

you get the following adventures:

a search for the perfect fruit…

Got it!

Still hungry and looking around for the next best berry…..

Got it!

and moving to the top of the tree, his tongue at the ready……..

Gulp!  The exact same bird in the exact same spot a fraction of a second later!  The berry has been swallowed whole!

You can see Phainopeplas throughout the Tucson valley these days.  Often, they are perched atop a tree and you can hear their distinctive sound:
Their single note call is common:  http://www.xeno-canto.org/322219   As is this call http://www.xeno-canto.org/289043  

Below is a female Phainopepla.  She looks like her male counterpart except for her flat, gray color.  Here she is atop the same hackberry bush: