Dazzling Tanagers of Costa Rica

Fruit-loving Tanagers, the second largest bird family with almost 400 species, live in the neotropics of the Americas, especially the tropical forests of Costa Rica. On the day we visited our Costa Rican port city, we bussed for a couple of hours from the port to an eco-adventure park featuring canopy walks, trails, waterfalls, zip lines, etc. and were treated to a dazzling display of bird life at the papaya fruit station. The brilliant plumage of these birds is a delight to color-starved North Americans still suffering through “the winter blues”.

Here is the aptly named Bay-headed Tanager
The well-named Speckled Tanager

Most Tanagers are omnivorous and may eat fruit, seeds, flower parts, nectar, or act like flycatchers hawking insects. Often the bill is specialized for a particular food resource, but in the Costa Rican cloud forest, all of these birds eagerly devoured the papaya.

Also appropriately named Silver-throated Tanager
A Common Bush Tanager—no fancy moniker for this one
Blue-Gray Tanagers seem to be mostly shades of blue.
This one used to be called Scarlet-rumped Tanager, but the Pacific coastal birds don’t breed with the Caribbean slope birds, so they are now two separate species, and this boy’s name is Cherrie’s Tanager.
And last, not to be out-classed by all the Tanagers, this is a Green Honeycreeper that used to be classified with the Tanagers, but now has its own family.

Bird classification underwent a huge revision with the advent of molecular analysis of bird DNA in the 1990s. As a consequence there are North American birds with Tanager in their name, like the Scarlet Tanager and Western Tanager, which are now placed in the Cardinal family rather than with the other neotropical Tanagers.

11 thoughts on “Dazzling Tanagers of Costa Rica

  1. Thank you, Sue for your brilliant shots of gorgeous birds. And tanager info. So the Scarlet Tanager is still called by that name anyway? One of my favorites out here in the North Carolina woods.

    • Yes, I know, it’s quite confusing when the taxonomists start changing family affiliations and renaming the birds. But yes, the Scarlet Tanager will always be called the same name, just a member of a different family now.

    • You might have seen a entirely different subset of tanagers — it’s a big group! The Blue-gray ones seem to be pretty common in a lot of habitats. I bet you saw them.

    • Thanks, Kathy! It was such a treat to get to see these birds pretty close, and to have them stick around for more than 2 seconds to be photographed.

  2. Pingback: Dazzling Tanagers of Costa Rica | Back Yard Biology – World Global Search

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