Male above, female below. The beautiful Phainopepla is a bird of the southwest of the United States, with its range extending well down into Mexico. The name is Greek for "shining cloak," descriptive of the iridescent black plumage of the male. The species nests in two distinct habitats: Sonoran Desert in early spring, February to April, during which time the birds live entirely on desert mistletoe berries; and cooler woodlands from May through July, when they live on a variety of fruits and berries. The birds migrate from the desert to the woodland habitat. What remains unknown is whether the some birds actually nest and have young in both habitats in a single year, which would make them uniquely versitile nesters among North American birds.
Another breeding plumage male, in the desert habitat in January, before the
onset of the nesting season.
Males have striking white patches on the underside of their primaries, visible only when they fly or (as above) lifts their wings. This one is in desert habitat in February, when the nesting season is just starting.
Above, a young Arizona male in the wet monsoon season of its first August, in wooded habitat
well above the desert floor. It retains some brown juvenal feathers, while some black ones
have come in, and the first crest feathers are just appearing. Below, another young male,
eight months older, with an adult-like head, iridescent black with a full crest, but with some
brown feathers remaining on the body.
The bird above and the one below, first-cycle males, were both photographed in woodland
habitat; the one below in San Benito County, California, not far from where I live in Silicon
Above and below, a male and female in the Sonoran Desert of Tucson in April;
within a month, as the heat increases and these birds' food source dries up, they
will migrate to woodland habitat. In mountainous southeastern Arizona this may
not require a long trip.
A male in April drinking at the artificial pool maintained in the desert south of
Tucson by Bill Forbes; it will migrate soon, but in its case may go no further
than Madera Canyon, a few miles away but at altitudes above 5000 feet, with
a running mountain stream and sycamore groves.