iNaturalist Observation of the Month: Phainopepla

By Patricia Simpson | Mission Trails Regional Park Foundation

I will always remember the first time I saw a phainopepla. I was at the Old Mission Dam walking around and saw a striking, shiny black bird topped with a mohawk zooming fast through the trees. I thought for sure this was an exotic bird which had escaped from a local owner! I later learned the red-eye wonder was a phainopepla, a local Mission Trails Regional Park bird, wild as can be.

Phainopepla (Courtesy MTRP)

The iNaturalist observation is a female, more grayish in appearance than her male counterpart. In flight, a wide white bar shows near the tip of the wing.

I am sure you have noticed the mistletoe atop trees by the river. It’s a favorite on the phainopepla menu. According to All About Birds, a single bird can eat upward of 1,100 mistletoe berries in a day. Now I’ll let you guess how mistletoe seeds spread out on plants and what type of “glue” keeps them in place atop a branch. Being part of the silky-flycatcher family, phainopepla also enjoy insects: beetles, flies, true bugs and caterpillars. Oh my!

You can find out more fun facts about phainopepla at

— Patricia Simpson is a trail guide at Mission Trails Regional Park.

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