Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Phainopeplas breed in the southwestern United States south into Baja California and central Mexico. The photo above is of a male we found in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument; the gray female, in the lower photo, was taken in the Joshua Tree National Park of California during a previous journey. The word "phainopepla" comes from the Greek for "shining robe." They belong to the family Ptilogonatidae--Silky Flycatchers--which DNA work shows to be relatively closely related to waxwings.

Phainopeplas are common in the Sonoran and Colorado Deserts, where they breed from February into April. With the onset of summer heat, these birds leave the desert and take up residence in oak and sycamore canyons of Arizona and California--here they breed again, but ornithologists do not know if the same birds breed twice. Furthermore, Phainopeplas behave differently in the two habitats. Desert birds form pairs that fiercely defend their territory. In woodlands, birds form loose colonies of 3-15 pairs. These colonies are defended by the groups. In the desert, Phainopeplas specialize in eating mistletoe fruit. Many mistletoe seeds pass through the birds and establish themselves as parasites on a variety of desert trees and bushes. This stable resource may be one reason for the behavioral differences between desert and woodland populations (Chu and Waisberg 1999).

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