Waiting For Luke   Leave a comment

Luke, A White Crested Phainopepla — Image by kenne

This is the time of year some SCVN members state watching for the return of “Luke” to Sabino Canyon. Phainopeplas generally spend
their summers at the higher elevations of the Santa Cantilina Mountains, returning to the canyon to feed off the desert mistletoe berries
in the canyon. 

What makes Luke unique is his white crest. For over eleven years, Luke can be spotted in the same general area in the canyon. Unfortunately, because of the pandemic, we don’t know if Luke returned last year since many of us were not doing our usual nature walks in Sabino Canyon. 

Phainopeplas usually perch high on canyon mesquite trees. They have digestive tracts specialized for eating mistletoe fruit. 
These berries are low in nutrients, so the birds have to consume lots of them. The berries spend only about 12 minutes in a
Phainopepla’s intestine, 
and the birds may eat 1,100 berries in a day.

A singular bird of the Southwest, they are a brilliant sight in flight. Males are silky black and slender, with an elegant crest and bold white
wing patches that appear when the bird takes wing. Phainopeplas nearest common ancestors are the waxwings, which also have a glossy, 
silky look to their plumage.

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