Posted by: Dan | May 29, 2006

Tanager in the treetops

By now, around the end of May, it seems that all or most of the migrants have reached their destinations, and are busy singing, nesting and raising young. Among the fledgelings that have caught my attention in the past week or so are those of Eastern Bluebirds around my parents’ house in PA, as well as a pair of Tree Swallows attempting to nest in a box far too accessible by my parents’ cat.

Unfortunately, however, I haven’t had the chance to go birdwatching in earnest in the past week, but did have the chance to go for a stroll around the Ellis Hollow house in Ithaca (NY), yesterday. There were of course the ever-present Dark-eyed Juncos in the driveway area, Eastern Phoebes nesting under the carport, Chickadees nesting in the box I put up last year, and the constant chorus of Wood Thrush throughout the surrounding woods, as well as all of the usual woodland inhabitants.

But walking further into the woods, I find a number of other visitors. Very common here, I find Red-eyed Vireo singing; but I rarely see them, as they stay in hidden amongst the leaves near the forest canopy. Warblers occaisionally pass through also, but do not remain for long.

This particular weekend offered a treat – a Scarlet Tanager. I’d followd the creek downhill some ways, crossed over, and followed a trail (in disrepair) for a short distance, to see what I might see. Sounding vaguely like a Robin to me, yet different, I caught a beautiful glimpse of this bird singing heartily in the treetops above me.

Time was pressing, however, so I couldn’t stay long. Tracking back, and following the creek uphill around to the opposite side of the house from which I started, I looped around. Along this way, I was greeted by an American Redstart, another Red-eyed Vireo, and another Tanager. This Tanager wasn’t singing though, just giving out it’s “chip-burr” call note.

It was quite a nice surprise to see this elusive bird. Though common, it relies on large wooded areas for its habitat, and is easily mislabeled as a Robin by inexperienced ears. In terms of conservation status, the Scarlet Tanager’s primary threat is forest fragmentation – the effect of which varies. According to All About Birds:

The response of the Scarlet Tanager to habitat fragmentation varies from place to place. In the heart of its range in the Northeast, it can be found in small forest patches. In the Midwest, similar sized forest patches would have no tanagers. These conclusions are based on Project Tanager at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology; more information can be found here and here.

Also the Smithsonian’s Scarlet Tanager project makes for good follow-up reading.



  1. Do birds put burrs in the nest to encourage the fledgelings to leave the nest?


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