How to Identify Phainopepla Birds and Where to Find Them

Updated: Mar. 17, 2022

Meet the glossy black colored phainopepla bird. Find out what they eat and learn where you can spot these silky flycatchers in the Southwest.

What Does a Phainopepla Look Like?

Phainopepla in treeCourtesy Sarah West
Male phainopepla

“What is this bird?” asks Sarah West of Ventura, California.

That’s a special visitor! The bird is called a phainopepla. It’s the only member of the silky-flycatcher family that’s found regularly in the United States, though they are not related to North American flycatchers.

You can recognize phainopeplas by their slim shape, spiky crest and red eyes. Males are glossy black and have white patches on their wings that can be seen when in flight. Female phainopeplas have a similar look to males, but their color is pale gray.

At a glance, phainopeplas can almost look like a cardinal that’s been painted black. Check out 9 birds that look like cardinals.

If you’re wondering about the unique name for these birds, there’s a good explanation for it: Their name comes from Greek words that mean “shining cloak,” referring to the male’s glossy plumage.

Learn how birds get their names (and our favorite bird nicknames!).

Where to Find a Phainopepla

Phainopepla, desert birdsCourtesy Leslie Pardo
A pair of phainopepla birds in the Sonoran desert east of Phoenix, Arizona

Phainopeplas are widespread in the Southwest. Birders report seeing them from California to western Texas and south into Mexico. You can also look for them in both the Sonoran and Mojave Deserts. Psst—meet the desert birds of the Southwest.

These birds are known to wander unpredictably, sometimes even showing up in large flocks. 

They feed mainly on small fruits, especially from mistletoe, though they may also stop by to feast on elderberries or sumac or juniper trees. Check out 10 trees and shrubs with berries for birds. You can also attract these birds by providing a backyard that is bug-friendly.

Call and Nesting Habits

Listen for a phainopepla’s wurp? call, which is soft but rises in tone. Males and females behave similarly to waxwings during the nest building stage, sometimes clicking their bills.

Next, meet the energetic verdin bird of the Southwest.