Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet TanagerIt’s such a stunning bird and I’ve seen it so infrequently that I can remember each sighting vividly:

  1. Ruth had just started working at Audubon and we were taking her on a walk around Big Pond.  There he sat on a branch directly above the trail.
  2. Backpacking with Mary and lots of little girls…  Chip-BURR.  Chip-BURR.  Mary’s backpack was off in a flash and she was fumbling with her binoculars.  “Scarlet Tanager!  Scarlet Tanager!”  She listened and looked and finally spotted him.  We rested here for a while and watched him foraging for insects.
  3. A leisurely afternoon walk at Bentley Sanctuary… sitting on a bench with the tall, tall trees above me…  And there he was, directly overhead.
  4. Coffee on Terry’s back porch and there sat a male in the cedars on the edge of the yard.
  5. A week ago at the CLDC banding station with Tom and friends – flitting in the aspens on the forest edge.  (Jeff willed him to go into a net, but it would be a week before he complied!)
  6. And then there was yesterday…

Yesterday, Jordan took a gorgeous male from the net.  And then, though Tom offered the honor of banding the bird to him, Jordan deferred and let me band him.  I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  (Thanks again, Jordan!)

Scarlet Tanager - banding Scarlet Tanager - I banded this bird
Modest Photographer, Tom LeBlanc, took these photos…

Scarlet Tanager - FussingScarlet Tanagers tend to be birds of the forest interior and most of my sightings have been in such habitat.  Seeing one on the edge of a forest seemed unusual.  When I started surfing about the internet for more information about Tanagers I found that Cornell enlisted the help of citizen volunteers to collect data for three years, from 1993 to 1996, on tanagers and forest fragmentation.  Tanagers were selected as the main species for Project Tanager because their habitat needs are similar to those of many forest interior species.

Scarlet Tanager - Closeup

As I hopped from link to link learning about Scarlet Tanagers and forest fragmentation, I think the most interesting thing I learned was about a shift in the thinking for wildlife management.  There was a time when landowners were encouraged to create as much “edge” habitat as possible, because when you create edges (between forest and field) you increase the diversity of wildlife.  However, when you take a step back and look at the situation more broadly, here’s what really happens:  Local diversity may be increased, but regional diversity decreases.  It’s a tradeoff:  You get more species arriving that like edge habitat, but the species that prefer deep woods disappear.

As a result of the Cornell study, different land management techniques are recommended to maintain diversity on a broader scale.  Click on the links below to learn more.

Isn’t it fascinating how one little bird can teach you so much about the world around you?

Scarlet Tanager Range Map from CornellLearn more:

That's the end!  Goodbye now!

7 thoughts on “Scarlet Tanager

  1. They really are striking birds. Funny how something so brilliantly red can be so difficult to spot in a forest of green.

    When I was working in Ohio a few years ago the project I was involved with was looking at how forest birds used regenerating clearcuts. We set up mistnets in a grid at approximately stepped distances from the forest edge to look at how far they’d come out into the clearcut, habitat/vegetation preferences, clearcut age preferences, etc. I’m not sure what the final result of that all came out to be, but I do recall that we caught our fair share of tanagers out in those clearcuts. We got quite a number of other forest-loving species, too.

    What I took away from that job is that clearcuts aren’t quite the evil that we’ve made them out to be, especially if seeder trees are left standing – the dense tangles of vegetation in clearcuts 4-8 years old were just jumping with bird activity as parents brought their fledged young out and adults arrived to moult. I assume that it’s because the much higher structural complexity of the habitat results in more habitat for (and therefore greater abundance of) insects.

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