Apr 09 2011

One of a Kind

Published by at 7:30 am under Beyond Bounds,Songbirds


Though this bird looks like a shiny black cardinal he’s really in the silky flycatcher family (Ptilogonatidae), the only one of his kind in North America.

This is a phainopepla (fay-no-PEP-la) and he doesn’t fit into any mold.  His behavior is like several songbirds rolled into one.

He perches high and flicks his long tail like a phoebe but he also makes somersault flights and flashes the white in his wings like a mockingbird.  Sometimes he even mimics other bird calls.

When he can, he eats flying insects but otherwise he feeds on the berries of desert mistletoe, a lifestyle quite similar to his closest relatives the waxwings.

He’s one-of-kind in his breeding habits too, choosing two different habitats based on time of year.  From February to April he breeds in the desert, from May to July he moves to the forest and breeds in oak and sycamore canyons. 

He’s always easy to find at Corn Creek, Nevada in April.

So where did he get his one-of-a-kind name?

Phainopepla is Greek for “shining robe.”

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the photo to see the original)

4 responses so far

4 Responses to “One of a Kind”

  1. Ronald N Beckmanon 20 Mar 2013 at 5:11 pm

    I live in delaware and have a black cardinal eating at my feeder(cracked corn ). 3/20/13

  2. Kate St. Johnon 20 Mar 2013 at 5:30 pm

    Very fascinating about your black cardinal. I suspect it is a melanistic northern cardinal rather than a phainopepla. Did you take a picture of it?

  3. Ronald N Beckmanon 20 Mar 2013 at 7:25 pm

    I beleave you may be right althoug I know verry little about birds . We have what may be a mated pair of adult cardinals and numorious juvies. Then today this dull black, red orange beaked, black eyed bird with a cardinal body and crest sbowed up. It was here just before sunset for a second time. I will attempt to get a picture and post it here.

  4. Nancyon 06 Feb 2014 at 2:03 pm

    I live in Tucson, AZ part way up Mt. Lemmon (spelling is correct) at about 3000 feet. I have seen this black Cardinal look-a-like several times since October 2013. I have not heard it sing or call so don’t know what it sounds like. Very beautiful bird.

Comments RSS

Leave a Reply

Bird Stories from OnQ