Scarlet Tanager

Hey guys welcome back! Today’s bird is our first of (as of the date of this writing) 3 tanagers on my life list! The scarlet tanager is a smallish songbird, about the size of an eastern bluebird. Like other tanagers, they are primarily insectivores, but also enjoy eating fruits and berries. Taxonomically, tanagers are kind of all over the place, simultaneously fitting in with and not fitting in with other families. Currently the genus Piranga, of which the North American tanagers belong, is listed as a part of the cardinal family.

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Scarlet tanager, Central Park, NY

Speaking of cardinals, how many of you have ever been out and seen a northern cardinal in a tree, perhaps against a snowy backdrop, and said to yourselves wow what a bright red bird! Well, the breeding plumage of a male scarlet tanager makes the northern cardinal look dull. And that’s not an exaggeration. The male scarlet tanager is a ridiculously bright red, offset by jet-black wings and tail. I mean they look like when someone takes a photo and turns up the saturation way too high.

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Scarlet tanager, Gateway Arch National Park, St. Louis, MO

Despite this, they can actually be quite difficult to see, as they typically spend their time in the tops of trees. Though you will see them down low. I remember the best scarlet tanager sighting I ever had (which of course was before I got my camera.) I was working in Central Park, walking through the area known as the Ravine. It was mid May, and spring migration was in full force. I came upon a dead snag only a few feet off the path. It was maybe 5 feet tall, and right there at eye level, not 10 feet away was a scarlet tanager! As I looked at the dead tree it was on, it looked to be moving. That’s when I realized why this bird was here. There had been a hatch-out of some sort of insect. There were hundreds of them on this tree, and a hungry tanager going to town on the buffet he found!

The females aren’t nearly as bright. In fact, they aren’t even red at all! Females and juveniles are a yellowish olive green, with slightly darker wings. Sometimes, especially in fall, you’ll see males that are in between plumages sporting red splotches on their otherwise olive bodies. Come back next time when we’ll take a look at another member of the thrush family. See you then!

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