Phainopepla (Phainopepla nitens) 7.5 inches long

The Phainopepla is a small (7-7 1/2") glossy black bird native to southern Arizona, California, parts of Texas and Mexico. It is thought to be the only North American bird that nests in two different regions during the same breeding season. It builds an early nest in the desert and then moves to the cooler, higher elevation areas to build a second nest in the moister habitat.

Phainopepla at nest

Females are markedly different from the males since they are not glossy black but gray overall with whitish edges on their wings. The male has a white wing patch that is only visible when he's flying. Both sexes have a distinct crest and red eyes.

Phainopeplas commonly feed on insects and mistletoe berries. Berries are also exchanged as part of courtship. The parasitic mistletoe plant grows on mesquite and ironwood trees. When these trees are leafless it's easy to spot the mistletoe, which grows in dense nest-like clumps. As a bird consumes the mistletoe berries, it digests only the pulp, with the seeds passing through its body unharmed. Later these seeds may find a growing site on a new twig when deposited there in feces.

Phainopeplas are fairly common in desert scrub areas around Phoenix and Tucson, and at Sonoita Creek near Patagonia, but they are threatened by habitat loss in places in Mexico where mesquite trees are harvested for firewood.