Phainopeplas

Friends of Arizona Joshua Tree Forest

Life is an interesting journey filled with twists and turns. The most exciting thing is not knowing who will come into your life next and what kind of impact they will leave behind. This is how my client and I met, on an online birding forum. I was asking about a red-tailed black cockatoo, and she replied with offering me a commission to draw a pair of phainopeplas! When we connected over the phone, I was instantly attracted to her story and designed my illustration to reflect her message.

The setting takes place in the Arizona Joshua Tree Forest of Grapevine Mesa, Arizona. I had positioned the female in the forefront of the illustration for two reasons. One, I wanted to show off her defined wing markings. And two, I wanted her poised and elegant. As the queen of her castle and a nurturing symbol of life, I drew her perched amongst the berries like incubating a nest of eggs. For the male, I wanted him in flight because of the distinctive white patches in his wings that are only visible when spread out. And because he is a black bird, I positioned him in the distance so as to not overpower the female.

About Phainopeplas & Desert Mistletoe

Phainopeplas can be found in southwestern USA and parts of Mexico, residing in desert habitats. These red-eyed birds are a part of the silky flycatcher family and rely heavily on a diet of desert mistletoe and small insects. They can often be found perched on top of trees or shrubs. Want to know a couple of cool facts? They eat at least 1100 mistletoe berries per day (when available) and they can mimic the calls of other bird species when being chased by predators or when being handled by humans. That’s a lot of berries and that’s one interesting bird!

About Joshua Trees

Joshua trees are one of the largest yucca plants and only grow in the Mojave Desert between the elevations of 2,000 to 6,000 feet. They are not found anywhere else in the world and can take 50 to 60 years to mature. While some sources say they may live up to 150 years, others say it’s possible for them to live longer. Because Joshua trees do no have growth rings, their age is based roughly on their height, growing 1.5 to 3 inches per year and up to an impressive 40 feet tall. Their branch patterns also vary greatly from tree to tree because the tip of a stalk must flower and be pollinated specifically by the yucca moth before it is able to create a new arm. Some trees that have never bloomed are branchless. Joshua trees are ever so important to the high-desert ecosystem because it is the only tree that thrives there, providing much need food and shelter for all the other insects, arachnids, birds, reptiles, and mammals.

About Friends of Arizona Joshua Tree Forest

Friends of Arizona Joshua Tree Forest is a non-profit organization operated by a group of big-hearted and dedicated volunteers. Their mission is to document, preserve, and protect the Grapevine Mesa Joshua Tree Forest in northwestern Arizona. They restore damaged habitats by replanting native species and clean up garbage left behind by visitors. To bring more awareness to their cause, they started an annual festival in 2018, which will be held on the first weekend of every April. This year it will be held in the Meadview Civic Association on April 6th & 7th.

As for my illustration, my client has generously donated it to the organization as a feature item for silent auction. The proceeds raised will go towards their mission in wildlife preservation. If you are interested in purchasing, volunteering, or donating, please visit their website.


Materials used: Faber-Castell Polychromos on Strathmore Bristol Vellum 100lb paper (14x17 inches)

This illustration has been SOLD. Please contact me for commissions if you are interested, or please visit my wildlife gallery. Thank you!

This illustration has been SOLD. Please contact me for commissions if you are interested, or please visit my wildlife gallery. Thank you!


Mel Unger