Mystery Bird: Phainopepla, Phainopepla nitens

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

Date Time Original: 2006:05:21 06:26:05
Exposure Time: 1/249
F-Number: 13.00
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.
Note that all of these characters apply to all the age and sex classes of this species: we don’t really need to rely on the barred undertail coverts of the female, the shiny black cloak of the male, the red eye of adults, or any other small-scale plumage features to identify this bird, which is distinctive enough in shape and habit to render the old-fashioned “field marks” simply redundant to the birder who has taken time to learn this species.
Review all mystery birds to date.

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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. Andy says:

    I’m going to say it’s a female Phainopepla – gray colour, crest, and red eyes.

  2. Female Phainopepla, with the only-slight-less-scary red eye.