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Scarlet Tanager Notecard



Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Adorned in flaming scarlet, with jet black wings and tail, the male Scarlet Tanager is one of the most beautiful birds of the deciduous forests of eastern North America. In contrast, the female is an unassuming olive green above and yellow below. The male’s burry song has been likened to the song of a robin “in a hurry with a cold.” The call note of the species is a distinctive “chick-breeee.”

A canopy-loving species, the Scarlet Tanager rarely visits the forest floor. It nests from eight to seventy-five feet above the ground. The female lays three to five splotched, pale blue eggs. The parents feed their young insects which they glean from the surfaces of leaves. Scarlet Tanagers are especially fond of oak trees.

With many North American forests becoming fragmented, Scarlet Tanagers are losing their large, unbroken forests in which they prefer to nest. Their breeding success in small forest patches is poor due to increased parasitism by Brown-Headed Cowbirds as well as predation by crows, jays, and other predators.

The Scarlet Tanager winters in South America mostly east of the Andes and especially in Amazonia. For Tanagers the trip across the Gulf of Mexico is an arduous 18 hour flight which can be particularly dangerous in stormy weather. Deforestation has unfortunately destroyed much of its wintering ground. Due to the loss of habitat in both North and South America along with the perils of migration and predation, tanager populations have declined during the past 15 years. As with many migratory songbirds, habitat protection might be the only way to save the species.

artwork by John Sill © 1993

text by Annette Finney