At a Glance

In the desert southwest, Phainopeplas and mistletoe rely on each other. Phainopeplas feed heavily on berries of this parasitic plant; after the berries pass through the bird's digestive tract, the seeds often stick to branches of mesquite or other trees, where they can sprout new mistletoe clumps. Flocks of these slim and elegant birds may gather to feed on seasonally abundant crops such as elderberries. At other times, Phainopeplas are solitary, each bird defending a few small trees with several large clumps of mistletoe, and attempting to drive away any other fruit-eating birds that come close.
Perching Birds, Silky Flycatchers
Low Concern
Arroyos and Canyons, Desert and Arid Habitats, Forests and Woodlands, Shrublands, Savannas, and Thickets
California, Southwest, Texas

Range & Identification

Migration & Range Maps

Movements are complex and poorly understood. May nest in spring in the desert and then depart for other areas, possibly to nest again elsewhere.


7-7 3/4" (18-20 cm). Slim and long-tailed, with spiky crest, red eyes. Male glossy black; white wing patches show mainly in flight. Female gray with paler wing edgings.
About the size of a Robin, About the size of a Sparrow
Black, Gray, White
Wing Shape
Tail Shape
Long, Rounded, Square-tipped

Songs and Calls

Common calls include an up-slurred whistled hoooeet and a low quirk. The short warbled song is rarely heard.
Call Pattern
Falling, Flat, Rising, Undulating
Call Type
Chirp/Chip, Scream, Trill, Whistle


Desert scrub, mesquites, oak foothills, mistletoe clumps. Occurs in many lowland and foothills habitats, moving around with availability of berries. Often in Sonoran desert areas and mesquite groves at various times of year; at some seasons, moves into chaparral, streamside trees, and oak woodlands.



2-3, rarely 4. Grayish, heavily dotted with lavender and black. Incubation is by both parents, 14-16 days. Male noted to do most of incubation during daylight hours.


Fed by both parents, receiving mostly crushed insects at first, then also berries. Young leave the nest about 19-20 days after hatching.

Feeding Behavior

Feeds on berries mostly while perched; also hovers briefly to pluck berries or insects. Catches insects in mid-air by flying out from a perch and pursuing them in quick fluttery flight.


Mostly berries and insects. Mistletoe berries are mainstays of diet when available. Also feeds heavily on berries of elder, buckthorn, and sometimes juniper; in settled areas, eats many berries of pepper trees. Also eats many insects, especially in warmer weather, including beetles, flies, true bugs, and caterpillars.


Male displays over nesting territory by flying in high circles and zigzags. In courtship, male may chase female in flight; while perched, male may feed female. Nest: Often placed in center of clump of mistletoe, where it is very difficult to see; sometimes in fork of branch. Nest height varies with habitat, typically low (4-12' above ground) in desert mesquites, higher (up to 50') in streamside oaks or sycamores. Nest, built primarily by male, is a rather small shallow cup of twigs, weeds, leaves, plant fibers, bound together with spiderwebs and lined with animal hair or plant down.

Climate Vulnerability

Conservation Status

Numbers vary from year to year, but overall population seems stable.

Climate Map

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect the range of the Phainopepla. Learn even more in our Audubon’s Survival By Degrees project.

Climate Threats Facing the Phainopepla

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.