are there black cardinals birds

You could call them jet setters, or maybe farmer birds, but for sure, the active little phainopepla is one of San Diego’s more interesting bird species.

Also known as the black cardinal, this busy little bird is often thought of as strictly a desert dweller. But the phainopepla lives a country club life, moving to more moderate climates in the summer, then back to the desert for the rest of the year. With distinctive topknots on both male and female birds, this is an easy bird to identify if you get close enough. From a distance, they can be identified by their color, shape and distinctive flight pattern.

The males are a silky jet black, and the females are gray with their wing feathers edged in off-white. They are sleek birds, about 71/2 inches in length with long tail feathers and a wingspan of just under a foot. Advertisement

When in flight, the males display white patches on their wings, and they fly in an up-and-down motion. They are nervous birds, often seen perched at the very top of trees and shrubs, where they can spot any approaching threat.

If you want to add the phainopepla to your life list, this is a good time to do it. They are now hanging out in the desert, and, frankly, this is a great time of the year there, with generally sunny days and mild weather to enjoy.

It’s also this habitat that suggests they be called farmer birds. While in the desert, they feed on native vegetation and insects, but by far their favorite food is the tiny berries of desert mistletoe; they will often consume more than 1,000 berries a day.

This, then, becomes a clever form of agriculture, as they deposit the seeds while perching on other trees and the seeds sprout into new clusters of mistletoe — and a future food supply.

I have to give credit to former San Diego Audubon Society President Phil Pryde for the farmer bird name suggestion.

While identified as a desert bird, the phainopepla is common in San Diego oak woodlands, riparian habitats and open chaparral from spring through summer. On one late spring morning, I spotted a beautiful male in the tall cottonwood tree next to my driveway in Escondido. He was unusually cooperative and allowed me to get several good photos. But the phainopepla is most abundant in the desert the rest of the year.

It requires four-wheel drive or a short hike south from the end of the pavement on Old Springs Road in Borrego Springs, but the sandy area of the Borrego Sink, also known as the Mesquite Bosque, is dotted with mesquite trees and catclaw bushes that are very popular with the phainopepla.

With Borrego Springs’ mild winter temperatures, this can be a wonderful time of the year to hike the area. In addition to phainopepla, you might encounter La Conte’s thrashers, loggerhead shrikes or some of the other interesting residents such as kit foxes, coyotes or black-tailed jackrabbits.

If you are a bird photographer hoping to get a good of the black cardinal, here are a couple of tips:

? They are creatures of habit and often return to the same perch, which frequently is the tallest tree branch in the area. You can confirm their preference for these sites by looking for little piles of deposited mistletoe seeds below the perch.

? Once you have located a perch, be patient. If you spot a phainopepla and try to approach, generally it will quickly fly away. But if you bring a comfortable chair and, even better, a little pop-up blind, you can set up near the perch and wait. It won’t take long for the birds to arrive.

Phainopeplas are resident birds of the Southwest. They occupy a limited range from western Texas to California and south into Mexico.

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? Once you have located a perch, be patient. Usually, if you try to approach a phainopepla after spotting it, it will take off fast. However, if you bring a cozy chair and—even better—a small pop-up blind, you can position yourself close to the perch and wait. It won’t take long for the birds to arrive.

This active little bird, also called the black cardinal, is frequently mistaken for only existing in the desert. However, the phainopepla leads a country club lifestyle, spending the summer in more temperate climates before returning to the desert for the remainder of the year. If you get close enough, you can easily identify this bird because it has distinctive topknots on both the male and female birds. They can be distinguished from a distance by their unique flight pattern, color, and form.

The males have white patches on their wings and fly up and down when they’re in the air. These agitated birds are frequently observed perched at the highest point on shrubs and trees, giving them the ability to detect any impending danger.

I must give the farmer bird name suggestion credit to Phil Pryde, the former president of the San Diego Audubon Society.

The mild winter months in Borrego Springs make this a great time of year to hike the area. You might come across loggerhead shrikes, kit foxes, coyotes, black-tailed jackrabbits, and other fascinating inhabitants in addition to phainopepla.

Like the male pictured above, phainopeplas are a kind of flycatcher that are more closely related to the Cedar Waxwing than to cardinals. In Tucson’s open desert, these birds are frequently sighted in the fall, winter, and spring. Although they are skilled at capturing insects, frequently while they are in flight, they mostly eat mistletoe berries in the winter. They are highly territorial birds. A Phainopepla typically takes over a mesquite or palo verde tree, preferably one that has mistletoe on it, and it will defend “its” tree from intruders.

They are strikingly beautiful birds. The males have piercing brilliant red eyes and are almost entirely blue-black in color. In flight, they display white patches under their wings. Since all Phainopeplas have noticeable crests, I’m sure that many people mistake these birds for Cardinals. In fact, having a crest does not necessarily indicate that you are closely related to other birds that have crests. Crests are fairly common in the world of birds.


Can a cardinal bird be black?

The black cardinal is native to San Diego, California as well as southwestern Colorado, Nevada, southwestern Utah, New Mexico, and the Sonoran Desert. The black cardinal is rarely found in Arizona, Texas and Mexico. It can be found in woodlands, desert scrub, and canyon foothills.

What does it mean when you see a black cardinal?

Though black cardinals look like this songbird, they actually aren’t cardinals at all; rather, they are silky-flycatchers, a type of passerine bird. Seeing a symbol of a black cardinal or dreaming of one is associated with seeking the truth, intuition and wisdom, and being honest with yourself.

What is the difference between a cardinal and a tanager?

Male Northern Cardinals have a long, pointed crest, black feathers around the face, and a heavy, triangular, reddish bill unlike adult male Summer Tanagers, which are entirely red with a longer, thinner bill.

What kind of bird looks like a cardinal but is gray?

The red-crested cardinal is a medium-sized bird that resembles North America’s northern cardinal in shape, but is mainly gray with only a brilliant red head, crest and breast.