Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the June 21, 2009 Newsletter, issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of Grants Pass, Oregon:
TANAGER WITH A TASTE FOR CHERRIES
Of all the bird species ravaging the cherry trees the most brilliantly colored is the Western Tanager, PIRANGA LUDOVICIANA, shown atop a conquered cherry below:
That bird eluded my camera for weeks, for he's a bit more nervous about being around humans than others. However, this week when I spent a lot of time in the orchard finally his passion for cherries overcame his caution, and he had to come close enough for his picture.
During most of the day he perches inside the Ponderosa Pines' dark shadows singing his sweet but somewhat monotonous, robinlike phrases with a slight hoarseness and a pause after each phrase. You can hear this by clicking the orange LISTEN icon at the upper left at http://www.enature.com/fieldguides/detail.asp?recNum=BD0349.
The female likes cherries as much as the male but while the male comes throughout the day her visits are more widely spaced, suggesting that most of the time she's incubating eggs. Her plumage lacks redness but her thick, pointed, whitish beak and dark wings and tail declare that she's this fellow's mate.
Western Tanagers are fairly common nesters throughout the western states and overwinter mostly from central Mexico to Costa Rica.
Traditionally the nine species of northern tanagers -- the genus Piranga which includes the Scarlet, Summer and Hepatic Tanagers -- have been placed in the Tanager Family, the Thraupidae. Genetic sequencing now suggests that they're much closer related to cardinals in the family Cardinalidae, so in future field guides probably they'll appear next to the Northern Cardinal. If this change is formalized it'll create the messy situation of having some famous northern tanagers not belonging to the Tanager Family. Some experts propose to call the shifted birds Pirangas instead of Tanagers.
Western Piranga... Scarlet Piranga... Summer Piranga... I could live with that.