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June 17, 2021

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Return of the Bird of the Week: Flame-colored Tanager

Don’t confuse the Flame-coloredTanager with the Flame-crested Tanagerfeatured a couple of weeks ago. Yes, the names are confusingly similar, but the birds certainly are not.

Flame-colored Tanagers, Costa Rica

Flame-colored Tanagers, Costa Rica

The male is to the left; the badly out-of-focus bird to the right is the female. This tanager is different from the last sixteen or so in a couple of ways. First, this is the first tanager that sometimes occurs in the United States. It’s rare, but it has been seen several times in southern Arizona and west Texas. The regular range is northern Mexico to western Panama. The second difference is that ornithologists are unsure whether this is a tanager or a cardinal. The vocalization suggests a cardinal; the body shape and bill suggest a tanager. WC will, as usual, follow the International Ornithological Congress, which treats it as a tanager. There may be as many as four subspecies.

Male Flame-colored Tanager, Panama

Male Flame-colored Tanager, Panama

This is primarily a canopy bird, most often in montane forest, especially cloud forests. The species was at one point called the Stripe-backed Tanager, and this photo shows why. The male is quite striking in the field, almost a different bird from the back.  The species is a generalist, foraging for insects, seeds and fruits. That adaptability, together with the fairly wide range, likely means the species is not immediately threatened. But no one knows for sure; the species is poorly understood.

Female Flame-colored Tanager, Costa Rica

Female Flame-colored Tanager, Costa Rica

The species is sexually dimorphic. WC hasn’t read any research on why some species in the genus are sexually dimorphic and others are not. It’s an unresolved puzzle.

For more bird photos, please visit Frozen Feather Images.

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