The name "Phainopepla" is Greek for "shining robe," a fitting description of the adult male's gleaming, jet-black plumage.
Phainopeplas is the only American member of the Ptilogonatidae family of "silky-flycatchers." They are not related to North American flycatchers; their closest relatives are waxwings, which have a similar glossy, silky appearance. Palmchats, which are only found on the island of Hispaniola, are also related to Phainopeplas.
Phainopeplas have specialised digestive tracts for eating mistletoe fruit. Because these berries are low in nutrients, the birds must eat a lot of them. The berries only spend about 12 minutes in the intestine of a Phainopepla, and the birds can consume up to 1,100 berries per day.
Red-tailed Hawks, Northern Mockingbirds, Northern Flickers, Gambel's Quail, Mourning Doves, Verdins, Acorn Woodpeckers, scrub-jays, and American Kestrels are among the birds that Phainopeplas imitate.
Phainopeplas adjust their nesting schedule to coincide with the ripening of their preferred foods. Ornithologists believe (but can't prove) that some Phainopeplas nest in one location, then move to a different habitat and nest again the following year.