Color me beautiful!

Need I say more?  Scarlet Tanagers out-red even the cardinals, and the black wings and tail put the gorgeous meter over the top.

Need I say more? Scarlet Tanagers out-red even the cardinals, and the black wings and tail put the gorgeous meter over the top.

This bird was busy hunting some big bugs in the buckeye tree, but posed briefly in a slightly open area so I could take his picture.

See bug...

See bug…

Grab bug...

Grab bug…

Eat bug...

Eat bug…

Pose, while digesting.

Pose, while digesting.

I feel fortunate to have gotten these photos.  Scarlet Tanagers (not members of the tanager family as the name would imply, but instead belong in the cardinal family!) are notorious for “skulking” among the large leaves at the top of tall deciduous trees.   They prefer to breed in large tracts of undisturbed forest, where they can escape the nest parasitism of cowbirds.  Cowbirds wait until the tanagers have left the nest unoccupied, then pitch out one of the tanager eggs and deposit one of their own.  The tanagers can’t tell the difference, and end up raising the interloper at the expense of one of their own young.

Like many of the spring migrants this year, the tanagers are late arriving in Minnesota to set up breeding territories.  By mid-summer, they will start moving south again, eventually making their way through Central America to western South America, where they merge with flocks of tropical (real) tanagers.

17 thoughts on “Color me beautiful!

    • The difference in the shade of red can often be caused by your monitor. They can have a profound impact on how a page or a photograph is displayed. Add that to your own interpretation of what is red or what is orange, and you have the potential for confusion. On my monitor, this bird is VERY red, but it is what (as a painter) I would call a warm red with slight yellow undertones, where the cardinal is a cooler red (having bluer undertones). I think monitors can exagerrate the undertones at times. When you see this bird “in person,” you definitely think it is red. Very bright red. Compared to the orange of say, an oriole.

      • It’s interesting that you should say that Martha, because the very next blog I visited ( had a scarlet tanager on it that looked tomato red to me. I think lighting plays a large part in how the colorblind see colors. I also agree with your assessment of monitor settings.
        I was reading an interesting article recently that claimed color blind people were better at finding things in the forest, because they were able to see “the edges” of objects easier when color blending didn’t obscure them.

        • New Hampshire, Oh, yes! I agree that lighting makes all the difference in the world. Plus our own built-in visual perception software (as in the more extreme case of color-blindness). So many variables. But I do think a scarlet tanager is pretty darn red, when you see one up close and personal. The whole color thing is interesting, isn’t it? And I never heard that about the edges being more apparent to someone who is color-blind, but it makes sense, doesn’t it? If coloration is what is camoflaging a bird, then it’s logical that not being able to see color could make it easier to see. I love posts like this. So much to learn!

        • I just looked at the Scarlet Tanager photos on the quietsolorpursuits post. What a difference the light made in his photos. In some of them, the bird was orangey-red, and in some (with more shade), the bird was a deep dark crimson color. Thanks for the blog reference, that was interesting.

      • I totally agree. On the iPad the bird is orangey-red, but on my laptop PC (on which I edited the photos), the bird is much more fire engine red. I can’t believe I didn’t notice that before. Also, the time of day and angle of sun on the bird were big influences here on the resultant color produced. And finally, the camera does not see or record (to me, anyway) what the eye sees.

  1. I need to see this backyard of yours! You have EVERYTHING!! Hence, the obvious title of your Blog…..thanks for sharing-wonderful pictures!

  2. Sue, these photos are amazing. You are really capturing some terrific close ups of your visiting avian friends. I love them. Cute story: I was already a birder when I married my first husband, and he was not. But he heard me describing birds or identifying them all the time. I had never seen a scarlet tanager at that time. One day, he came home from work, and announced, “You know how you are always seeing red-winged blackbirds around here? Well today, I saw a black-winged redbird!” Of course, I knew what he meant right away, and I was sooo jealous!

    Thanks for such a great post, and for the info about scarlet tanagers being part of the cardinal family. I had no idea! I guess that includes the rest of our tanagers, as well? (Summer tanagers are the ones I see most often here in central Florida.)

    • All “tanagers” in the genus Piranga are in the cardinal family. That includes: summer, scarlet, hepatic, western, flame colored, white winged, rose throated, red headed. Some of these you have in Florida, others are more Central American distribution. When I said the Scarlet Tanager wintered with other tanagers in Central America, I was wrong, because many of those so-called tanagers are also in the cardinal family. Oh well.

  3. I love your wonderful photos of this gorgeous bird, whatever shade of red that you decide it is. The vibrancy of the color and the contrast with the rest of the body are breathtakingly beautiful. I’ve enjoyed too the discussion of color and monitors too. I am very aware of the differences in monitors and how hard it is to match colors from one monitor to another–reds seem to be one of the most problematic colors. I rarely print photos these days, but I understand that monitor calibration can be a big issue in trying to get prints that reflect what you see on your screen.

  4. Pingback: Durfee Hill East – Glocester | Trails & Walks in Rhode Island

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