I was sitting at the computer yesterday when I heard a low “wheet? . . . wheet?” and I knew the phainopeplas were back.
You might call the phainopepla “the bird of which no one has ever heard”. It’s not uncommon, but unless you look closely, you think it’s just another blackbird. Well, it’s a black bird, all right, but it’s not a blackbird.
I’ve written about them before. They show up about this time of year to feast on the elderberries. The males are gleaming black all over, except for white wing patches which don’t show when they’re perched. The females are grayish-brown, but both have red eyes and wispy crests. I’ve been trying to get a picture of a male for a while. This one was obliging enough to wait while I hung out the window with my camera on full telephoto.
I wanted a view of his red eyes or white wing patches, but he just wanted to preen.
And . . . preen some more. After all, it’s important to look good for Mrs. Phainopepla.
He posed once more dramatically . . .
. . . because he had spotted a rival. A moment later, he was locked in aerial combat with another male phainopepla, white wing patches flashing in the sun.
Phainopepla is one of those words that is fun to say (like pinkelponker) and the bird is handsome to look at. His name means “shining robe” in Greek, and it really does shine. He is a member of the silky flycatcher family. One authority says that he will imitate the calls of other species, including the red-tailed hawk (sounds useful).
So now you have heard of the phainopepla, and can entertain your friends by saying “Phainopepla . . . phainopepla . . . phainopepla . . .”
Or maybe you’d better not.