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)

10 responses so far

10 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.

  5. Susion 06 May 2014 at 7:16 pm

    I also live in tucson, in town and just saw one land on the fence outside my window. this is the first time i ever saw one. they are gorgeous!

  6. Nancyon 04 Mar 2015 at 11:52 am

    Hi, I am a different Nancy from the one living on Mt. Lemmon… I live in Tucson, Arizona as well, and just saw one perched on a tree (just off my deck). It watched me as I filled by hummingbird feeder and didn’t seem to mind that I was out there at all. Really cool, beautiful bird.

  7. Gail Bankson 13 Apr 2015 at 9:02 pm

    They are here in Tubac AZ. They are pretty and not shy!!!

  8. Earlon 09 Oct 2015 at 11:14 am

    I came to Nederland, Colorado to do some bird watching. I went to Mud Lake and as right away I see this bird perched at the top of a tree. It patiently waited while I got my binoculars out. It had the body shape and frill of a cardinal, but the beak was wrong and the tail was longer. When I got back to my room I spent some time looking for it under Finches, and finally gave up and just searched for “Black Cardinal”. The photo at the top of this page came up and that’s him!

    The other birds I’ve seen are a magpie and – a bald eagle!

  9. Lisaon 04 Mar 2016 at 9:46 pm

    Very beautiful bird!! I knew it wasn’t a cardinal, but from a distance, has the same features!!!! Very beautiful…and shiny!! and such a pretty voice

  10. Bruceon 27 Mar 2017 at 4:22 pm

    I live on the waterfront in Deltona, Fl. Saw this bird land in a palm 10′ from where I was sitting. I frequently have pairs of Cardinals (red) on the property but to my knowledge I have never seen a black cardinal before. Did not get a picture, maybe next time, beautiful bird.

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