Friday, August 15, 2014

Bulletin 204 - Panama #12 - Tanagers

The Tanagers are a large (370 species) diverse family (Thraupidae) of colorful new world birds, especially in the genus tangara. They are most common in the tropics. Some of the species inhabit offshore islnds besides the Caribbean Islands. The so-called Darwin Finches of the Galapagos Islands are in this family. As well, I saw at least one of them is on the Falklands Island chain off Argentina. What is more surprising is there are 4 endemic species in the Tristan da Cuhna archipelago in the South Atlantic Ocean. These islands are 2100 miles from South America.

The familar birds in North America called tanagers (scarlet, summer, western, hepatic) are no longer in this family, but were moved to the cardinal family. Also, another that we photographed in Panama is now moved to the sparrow family and we will see it in a later bulletin.

Not all tanagers are brightly colored as we saw with the Puerto Rican Tanager last year. I will start with the dull ones and work to the more colorful. The sexes are similar unless noted.

The Plain-colored Tanager (Tangara inornata) is a 4.5" plain gray bird with dark wings and a blue shoulder patch that is usually hidden when the bird is perched. One can just get a peek at the blue shoulder patch in this photo.

Plain-colored Tanager

The White-lined Tanager male is black with a slender white line through the wing. The female is rufous colored and lacks the line on the shoulder and to my mind is prettier.

White-lined Tanager - female
The White-shouldered Tanager (Tachyphonus luctuosus) is smaller (5"). It is all black with a wide white shoulder patch.

White-shouldered Tanager
The Sulphur-rumped Tanager (Heterospingus rubrifrons) is a 6" overall gray bird with white tufts at sides of breast that are visible at the wing edge. The sulphur rump is usually only visible in flight.

Sulphur-rumped Tanager
 A moment later he flew to another branch and fluffed his feathers, showing the rump color.

Sulphur-rumped Tanager
The very similar Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus) is 6.5" long. The female is olive with yellow underparts and rump. She responded to the tape and posed nicely. He never showed up.

Flame-rumped Tanager - female
One can see with all these similar colored birds, why using a guide is essential for me.

Seedeaters are a single genus, sporophila, with 33 species in Latin America. They are also included in the tanager family. We photographed 3 species.

As these are  tiny 3.5" to 4" somewhat plain birds, I will just give you the link to the photos as this bulletin is very long anyway.

The Variable Seedeater (Sporophila americana) is 4". The male is black with a white rump and belly. The female is dull ochre.

The Ruddy-breasted Seedeater (Sporophils minuta) is 3.5". The male is brown with a ruddy underparts. The female is plain brown.

The Yellow-bellied Seedeater (Sporophila nigricollis) is also 4". The male has a black face and throat, olive back and yellowish belly. The female is plain brown.

The 3.5" Yellow-faced Grassquit (Tiaris olivaceus) is an olive bird with the male showing black and yellow facial pattern. I had photographed this species in Texas in 2011 when one showed up near Corpus Christi on the Texas coast.

Yellow-faced Grassquit - male

The female lacks the black and has just a little yellow on the face.

Yellow-faced Grassquit - female

The male Blue Dacnis (Dacnis cayana) is a small (4.5") turquoise bird with a black back, red eye and pink legs. We didn't see the female, but she is green.

Blue Dacnis - male

A close relative is the Red-legged Honeycreeper (Cyanerpes cyaneus). The breeding male of this small (4.5") species is royal blue with a turquoise crown, black wings, tail and back, and bright red legs. The female and non breeding males are dull greenish. Fortunately we saw the glorious breeding plumaged male.

Red-legged Honeycreeper - breeding male

Another day we saw a tree full of pink blossoms and these birds were feasting on the nectar.

Red-legged Honeycreeper - breeding male
Lisa first spotted this next bird, the male Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza). The female is all bright green, but not iridescent like the male.

Green Honeycreeper - female
The Crimson-backed Tanager (Ramphocelus dimidiatus) is a common garden bird that we saw everyday. The male is stunning crimson with black wings and tail and silver lower mandible. I would sure love to have this bird coming to feeders in my yard!

Crimson-backed Tanager - male

The female is duller, but still crazy colored. I think she is prettier than any female bird in the USA or Canada.

Crimson-backed Tanager - female
Now for the 2 tangara genus tanagers. They are considered the most colorful of the tanagers. However, if you go back to the beginning, the Plain-colored Tanager is also a tangara. Maybe he is incorrectly labelled or else the exception that proves the rule. Mostly they occur in mountains above 1000 foot elevation.

The last morning we went into a park on the mountain top that connects parks on the Pacific slope to those on the Atlantic slope. It was windy, cold, foggy and raining. We saw 2 tangara species.

This is the 5" Bay-headed Tanager (Tangara gyrola) . The picture is fuzzy, but for me it is a special bird. It is on the cover of the Costa Rica bird book, and was the first bird I saw in Costa Rica in my 1994 trip. I yelled out to the group "There's the bird on the cover!" I was so excited to see it so soon. It has turquoise underparts, green back and chestnut head.

Bay-headed Tanager
The Emerald Tanager (Tangara florida) is 4.5" long.. They are bright green with a squarish black patch behind the ear. Also, the crown and rump are yellow.

Emerald Tanager

Happy birding and photography,

David McDonald

photos copyright 2006 - 2014 David McDonald

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