Mystery Bird: Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens

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[Mystery bird] Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens, photographed in Arizona. [I will identify this bird for you tomorrow]
Image: Richard Ditch, 2006 [larger view].

Date Time Original: 2006:05:07 07:33:04
Exposure Time: 1/200
F-Number: 14.00
ISO: 200
Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

Rick Wright, Managing Director of WINGS Birding Tours Worldwide, writes:
There are birds that are instantly recognizable once we “know” them, but those same species can be puzzling when encountered for the first time or out of range. In the American southwest, a long-tailed, dusky bird perched at the tip of a dead twig is often a Phainopepla, the darkest and most northerly of the silkies.
Shape identifies this bird right away to birders who are the least bit familiar with the species. In addition to the long tail and short wing, note the small, markedly square head, the spiky crest, and the short, rather undistinguished bill of a frugivore and flycatcher.
In the field, we would likely hear this bird giving its soft, sweet hooting call, and when it flushed, we’d see the bird fly off in a distinctive stuttering flight, stalling mid-air, then recovering with a few fast wingbeats.
Review all mystery birds to date.


About GrrlScientist

grrlscientist is the pseudonym of an evolutionary biologist and ornithologist who writes about evolution, ethology, and ecology, especially in birds. After earning a degree in microbiology (thesis focus: virology) and working at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, she earned her PhD in zoology from the University of Washington in Seattle, where she studied the molecular correlates of testosterone and behaviour in white-crowned sparrows. She then worked a Chapman Postdoctoral Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where she studied the speciation and distribution of lories and other parrots throughout the South Pacific Islands. A discarded scientist, she returned to her roots: writing. Formerly hosted by The Guardian (UK), she now writes about science for Forbes and for the non-profit think tank, the Evolution Institute and she writes podcasts for BirdNote Radio. An avid lifelong birder and aviculturist, she lives with a flock of songbirds and parrots somewhere in Germany.
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0 Responses to Mystery Bird: Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens

  1. Heh. An adult male Phainopepla. If I have to name a field mark, I’m naming it’s scary red eye! Aaaughhhhh!

  2. Wendy says:

    Ah! Phainopepla! I ADORE those birds, and hardly ever get to see them! (I think their range extends into California, but I’ve never seen one here. Or, maybe I’m wrong about the range. I didn’t need to open a field guide to ID this photo. :D).
    And yeah, that’s an adult male, and since John already mentioned the scary red eye, I’ll go with . . . sweet little feathery crest on the head! Um, yeah. Really, this isn’t a bird that’s likely to be confused with anything else, is it?

  3. Hilary says:

    Yes – Instant ID: Phainopepla, the Goth blackbird.

  4. Selasphorus says:

    Adult male Phainopepla. The silky black feathers and crested head are dead giveaways, and it’s right for the location.

  5. Albatrossity says:

    I think it’s one of these, and probably hangs out with one of these in the springtime!

  6. The Ridger says:

    I’ve never seen him, but he is pretty unmistakable. “Scary red eye” for sure.

  7. smilodon says:

    Goth blackbird indeed! Yes, a male Phainopepla with all black feathering (except on the folded part of the wing), evil red eye and a crest.

  8. bobk says:

    Bronzed Cowbird.
    Don’t be misled by the Halloween costume – Fred Astaire in top hat and tails.

  9. wesele says:

    I’ve never seen him, but he is pretty unmistakable. “Scary red eye” for sure too:)

  10. wesele says:

    Goth blackbird indeed! Yes, a male Phainopepla with all black feathering (except on the folded part of the wing), evil red eye and a crest.

  11. Sheri says:

    To correct a very common mistake, this is actually that fine Irish-American bird, the FĂ©in O’Pepla.

  12. Smilodon says:

    Sheri, that made me laugh.