Scarlet Tanager

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Common Name: Scarlet Tanager
Scientific Name: Piranga olivacea

Size: 6.3-6.7 inches (16-17 cm); Wingspan: 9.8-11.4 inches (25-29 cm)

Habitat: North America and northern South America; found East of the Mississippi River in the United States and Southern Canada and down through the Caribbean into Columbia, Equator, Peru and Bolivia.

Scarlet Tanagers breed in mature deciduous forests and mixed deciduous-coniferous forests in eastern North America. They nest in oak, pine-oak, oak-hickory, beech, hemlock-hardwood, and occasionally pure eastern hemlock forests. In Canada they sometimes extend into boreal forests in stands of aspen, balsam poplar, and birch. Breeding Scarlet Tanagers prefer large forest tracts with large trees. During spring and fall they use similar forest habitats as well as open spaces such as parks and gardens. When they arrive in the southern United States coast in early spring they feed in shrubby vegetation, grassy fields, and on the ground. Scarlet Tanagers winter in mature forests and forest edges in northern and western South America, mostly on hills and mountains. They range south as far as the Bolivian lowlands.

Status: Not Threatened. Global population: 2,200,000 mature adults. Overall, Scarlet Tanager populations appear stable, although their numbers have fluctuated regionally in the last several decades. The species increased in parts of the Midwest, Great Lakes, and South but declined in areas of the Northeast and New England. Partners in Flight estimates there are about 2.2 million Scarlet Tanagers, with 93 percent of the breeding population in the United States. Scarlet Tanagers are interior forest species, so changes in land-use—fragmentation by development as well as regrowth as cleared land reverts to forest—may be responsible for some of these conflicting trends. In fragmented landscapes, nests are in greater danger of being parasitized by Brown-headed Cowbirds and from predators that operate along habitat edges. To safeguard the Scarlet Tanager population, researchers recommend preserving and restoring mature forest habitat for breeding, migrating, and wintering birds.

Diet: Mostly insects along with some fruit and tender buds. Their invertebrate diet includes ants, sawflies, moths, butterflies, beetles, flies, cicadas, leafhoppers, spittlebugs, treehoppers, plant lice, scale insects, termites, grasshoppers, locusts, dragonflies, dobsonflies, snails, earthworms, and spiders.

While foraging for insects they walk along branches high in the canopy or vertically on tree trunks to probe the bark, but rarely along the ground. Tanagers perch or hover with fast wingbeats to grab insects from leaves, bark, and flowers, and they catch flying insects like bees, wasps, and hornets from the air. They swallow small larvae whole, but they kill larger prey by pressing it into a branch.

In the winter, they forage in mixed-species flocks with woodcreepers, flycatchers, barbets, and tropical tanagers.

Nesting: Males, in summer, have blood red heads and body with black wings and tail. During the migration to the south, they trade their scarlet plumage for yellowish-green heads and body, resembling the females, but with black wings and tails. The females have yellowish-green heads and body with dark grayish-green wings and tail.

The female chooses the nest site, usually selecting a shaded spot within a cluster of leaves at a juncture of small branches. Nests are often fairly high (50 feet or more from the ground) on a nearly horizontal branch well away from the trunk. The site usually has an unobstructed view of the ground and open flyways from nearby trees. Scarlet Tanagers tend to nest in mature deciduous trees such as maple, beech, and oak, but they also nest in eastern hemlock.

The female gathers nesting material from the forest floor and builds a flimsy nest in 3–4 days, spending relatively little time on it each day. She drops material onto the nest, hops in, and molds it into shape by pressing her body against the sides and bottom, then getting out and weaving in loose ends. The nest is a loosely woven saucer of twigs, grasses, plant stalks, bark strips, rootlets, and pine needles. It has a shallow and asymmetrical interior space, lined with grass, fine rootlets, fine plant fibers, vine tendrils, and pine needles. 3-5 eggs are laid and look greenish blue to light blue speckled with chestnut, purplish red, and lilac in appearance.

Scarlet Tanagers are parasited by Brown-headed Cowbirds, particularly where the forest habitat has been fragmented. When a pair of tanagers notices a female cowbird approaching, they aggressively drive her away. If they don’t notice, the cowbird gets rid of a tanager egg and replaces it with one of their own. The tanagers apparently can’t tell the difference, either before or after the egg hatches, and they raise the imposter along with the rest of their brood.

Cool Facts: The female Scarlet Tanager sings a song similar to the males’, but softer, shorter, and less harsh. She sings in answer to the male's song and while she is gathering nesting material.

The oldest Scarlet Tanager on record was nearly 12 years old.

Found in Songbird Remix Woodland Jewels

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