Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the March 3, 2008 Newsletter written in the community of 28 de Junio, in the Central Valley 8 kms east of Pujiltic, Chiapas, MÉXICO
about 800 meters in elevation, ± LAT. 16° 18'N, LONG. -92° 28'
TANAGER RAINBOW

Saturday during my campfire breakfast a medium-size bird with a light-blue body and dark blue wings flew up next to a Tropical Mockingbird calling in a scrubby tree. The light-blue bird was a Blue-gray Tanager. Not far away gorging himself on the pea-size fruits of a fig tree was a Yellow-winged Tanager, the wings actually black, pea green, purple and yellow, the head and back purple, the belly pea green.

What colorful birds these tanagers are! Northerners know how bright all-red male Summer Tanagers are, and how pretty the Scarlet Tanager is with his red body, black wings and tail. And then out west there's the Hepatic Tanager a little darker red, and what a treat seeing the Western Tanager with his yellow body, red head, and black wings, back and tail. Females of the above species are of various yellow-green designs.

In Chiapas's northern Gulf lowlands the Crimson-collared Tanager is black except for a dark red hood and rump, and the male Scarlet-rumped Tanager is similarly all black with only a bright red rump. In western Mexico the Rosy Thrush-Tanager, shaped like a thrush, is brownish above but with rosy-red underparts. Taxonomically our mostly green Honeycreepers are regarded as tanagers as are the mostly black and yellow euphonias.

Mexico hosts 30 species of the Tanager Subfamily, the Thraupinae, which belongs to the Emberizid Family. Few bird groups are so colorful and so ubiquitous -- though you seldom see them in large numbers. One reason for their success as a group is surely their flexibility, as indicated by their generalist beaks. Their beaks are neither exceptionally large or thick, or small or slender. Tanagers mostly eat fruit but also seeds and insects. In a world of many niche- specialists, tanagers appear to specialize in being flexible generalists.