Birds Vol 1 #6 – The Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897

Scarlet Tanager for Birds Illustrated by Color Photography, 1897, From col. F. M. Woodruff

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. June, 1897 No. 6




NE of the most brilliant and striking of all American birds is the Scarlet Tanager. From its black wings resembling pockets, it is frequently called the “Pocket Bird.” The French call it the “Cardinal.” The female is plain olive-green, and when seen together the pair present a curious example of the prodigality with which mother nature pours out her favors of beauty in the adornment of some of her creatures and seems niggardly in her treatment of others. Still it is only by contrast that we are enabled to appreciate the quality of beauty, which in this case is of the rarest sort. In the January number of Birds we presented the Red Rumped Tanager, a Costa Rica bird, which, however, is inferior in brilliancy to the Scarlet, whose range extends from eastern United States, north to southern Canada, west to the great plains, and south in winter to northern South America. It inhabits woodlands and swampy places. The nesting season begins in the latter part of May, the nest being built in low thick woods or on the skirting of tangled thickets; very often also, in an orchard, on the horizontal limb of a low tree or sapling. It is very flat and loosely made of twigs and fine bark strips and lined with rootlets and fibers of inner bark.

The eggs are from three to five in number, and of a greenish blue, speckled and blotted with brown, chiefly at the larger end.

The disposition of the Scarlet Tanager is retiring, in which respect he differs greatly from the Summer Tanager, which frequents open groves, and often visits towns and cities. A few may be seen in our parks, and now and then children have picked up the bright dead form from the green grass, and wondered what might be its name. Compare it with the Redbird, with which it is often confounded, and the contrast will be striking.

His call is a warble, broken by a pensive call note, sounding like the syllables chip-churr, and he is regarded as a superior musician.

From – Scarlet Tanager song:

“Passing through an orchard, and seeing one of these young birds that had but lately left the nest, I carried it with me for about half a mile to show it to a friend, and having procured a cage,” says Wilson, “hung it upon one of the large pine trees in the Botanic Garden, within a few feet of the nest of an Orchard Oriole, which also contained young, hoping that the charity and kindness of the Orioles would induce them to supply the cravings of the stranger. But charity with them as with too many of the human race, began and ended at home. The poor orphan was altogether neglected, and as it refused to be fed by me, I was about to return it to the place where I had found it, when, toward the afternoon, a Scarlet Tanager, no doubt its own parent, was seen fluttering around the cage, endeavoring to get in. Finding he could not, he flew off, and soon returned with food in his bill, and continued to feed it until after sunset, taking up his lodgings on the higher branches of the same tree. In the morning, as soon as day broke, he was again seen most actively engaged in the same manner, and, notwithstanding the insolence of the Orioles, he continued his benevolent offices the whole day, roosting at night as before. On the third or fourth day he seemed extremely solicitous for the liberation of his charge, using every expression of distressful anxiety, and every call and invitation that nature had put in his power, for him to come out. This was too much for the feelings of my friend. He procured a ladder, and mounting to the spot where the bird was suspended, opened the cage, took out his prisoner, and restored him to liberty and to his parent, who, with notes of great exultation, accompanied his flight to the woods.”


What could be more beautiful to see than this bird among the green leaves of a tree? It almost seems as though he would kindle the dry limb upon which he perches. This is his holiday dress. He wears it during the nesting season. After the young are reared and the summer months gone, he changes his coat. We then find him dressed in a dull yellowish green—the color of his mate the whole year.

Do you remember another bird family in which the father bird changes his dress each spring and autumn?

The Scarlet Tanager is a solitary bird. He likes the deep woods, and seeks the topmost branches. He likes, too, the thick evergreens. Here he sings through the summer days. We often pass him by for he is hidden by the green leaves above us.

He is sometimes called our “Bird of Paradise.”

Tanagers feed upon winged insects, caterpillars, seeds, and berries. To get these they do not need to be on the ground. For this reason it is seldom we see them there.

Both birds work in building the nest, and both share in caring for the little ones. The nest is not a very pretty one—not pretty enough for so beautiful a bird, I think. It is woven so loosely that if you were standing under it, you could see light through it.

Notice his strong, short beak. Now turn to the picture of the Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks in April Birds. Do you see how much alike they are? They are near relatives.

I hope that you may all have a chance to see a Scarlet Tanager dressed in his richest scarlet and most jetty black.

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) by Kent Nickell

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) by Kent Nickell

Lee’s Addition:

‘Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. (Isaiah 1:18 NKJV)

Scarlet Tanagers (Piranga olivacea) find themselves assigned to the Cardinalidae – Grosbeaks, Saltators & Allies Family and not in the Thraupidae – Tanagers and Allies where I would have thought they might be.

The tanagers comprise the bird family Thraupidae, in the order Passeriformes. The family has an American distribution (Cardinalidae). Tanagers are small to medium-sized birds.

There were traditionally about 240 species of tanagers, but the taxonomic treatment of this family’s members is currently in a state of flux. As more of these birds are studied using modern molecular techniques it is expected that some genera may be relocated elsewhere. Already species in the genera Euphonia and Chlorophonia, which were once considered part of the tanager family, are now treated as members of Fringillidae, in their own subfamily (Euphoniinae). Likewise the genera Piranga (which includes the Scarlet Tanager, Summer Tanager, and Western Tanager), Chlorothraupis, and Habia appear to be members of the Cardinal family, and have been reassigned to that family by the AOU.

The Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) is a medium-sized American songbird. It and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). The specie’s plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.

Adults have pale stout smooth bills. Adult males are bright red with black wings and tail; females are yellowish on the underparts and olive on top, with olive-brown wings and tail. The adult male’s winter plumage is similar to the female’s, but the wings and tail remain darker. Young males briefly show a more complex variegated plumage intermediate between adult males and females. It apparently was such a specimen that was first scientifically described. Hence the older though somewhat confusing specific epithet olivacea (“the olive-colored one”) is used rather than erythromelas (“the red-and-black one”), as had been common throughout the 19th century.

Their breeding habitat is large forested areas, especially with oaks, across eastern North America. Scarlet Tanagers migrate to northwestern South America, passing through Central America around April, and again around October.

They begin arriving on the breeding grounds in numbers by about May and already start to move south again in mid-summer; by early October they are all on their way south.[3] The bird is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe.
Scarlet Tanagers are often out of sight, foraging high in trees, sometimes flying out to catch insects in flight. They eat mainly insects and fruit.

These birds do best in the forest interior, where they are less exposed to predators and brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. Their nests are typically built on horizontal tree branches. Specifically their numbers are declining in some areas due to habitat fragmentation, but on a global scale tanagers are a plentiful species.


Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 June, 1897 No 6 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 June, 1897 No 6 – Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

The above article is an article in the monthly serial for May 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Ruffed Grouse

Previous Article – June and The Birds and Farmers

Sharing The Gospel


Scarlet Tanager – Wikipedia

Tanager – Wikipedia

Learning from the Birds – Overwhelmed


Birds Vol 1 #1 – The Red-Rumped Tanager (Scarlet-Rumped or ?)

Red-Rumped Tanager

Red-Rumped Tanager

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited

Vol 1. January, 1897 No. 1



I have just been singing my morning song, and I wish you could have heard it. I think you would have liked it.

I always sing very early in the morning. I sing because I am happy, and the people like to hear me.

My home is near a small stream, where there are low woods and underbrush along its banks.

There is an old dead tree there, and just before the sun is up I fly to this tree.

I sit on one of the branches and sing for about half an hour. Then I fly away to get my breakfast.

I am very fond of fruit. Bananas grow where I live, and I like them best of all.

I eat insects, and sometimes I fly to the rice fields and swing on the stalks and eat rice.

The people say I do much harm to the rice, but I do not see why it is wrong for me to eat it, for I think there is enough for all.

I must go now and get my breakfast. If you ever come to see me I will sing to you.

I will show you my wife, too. She looks just like me. Be sure to get up very early. If you do not, you will be too late for my song.

“Birds, Birds! ye are beautiful things,
With your earth-treading feet and your cloud-cleaving wings.
Where shall man wander, and where shall he dwell—
Beautiful birds—that ye come not as well?
Ye have nests on the mountain, all rugged and stark,
Ye have nests in the forest, all tangled and dark;
Ye build and ye brood ‘neath the cottagers’ eaves,
And ye sleep on the sod, ’mid the bonnie green leaves;
Ye hide in the heather, ye lurk in the brake,
Ye dine in the sweet flags that shadow the lake;
Ye skim where the stream parts the orchard decked land,
Ye dance where the foam sweeps the desolate strand.”

Silver-beaked Tanager Through wire cage at Lowry Park Zoo by Lee

Silver-beaked Tanager Through wire cage at Lowry Park Zoo by Lee



N American family, the Tanagers are mostly birds of very brilliant plumage. There are 300 species, a few being tropical birds. They are found in British and French Guiana, living in the latter country in open spots of dwellings and feeding on bananas and other fruits. They are also said to do much harm in the rice fields.

In “The Auk,” of July, 1893, Mr. George K. Cherrie, of the Field Museum, says of the Red-Rumped Tanager:

“During my stay at Boruca and Palmar, (the last of February) the breeding season was at its height, and I observed many of the Costa Rica Red-Rumps nesting. In almost every instance where possible I collected both parents of the nests, and in the majority of cases found the males wearing the same dress as the females. In a few instances the male was in mottled plumage, evidently just assuming the adult phase, and in a lesser number of examples the male was in fully adult plumage—velvety black and crimson red. From the above it is clear that the males begin to breed before they attain fully adult plumage, and that they retain the dress of the female until, at least, the beginning of the second year.

“While on this trip I had many proofs that, in spite of its rich plumage, and being a bird of the tropics, it is well worthy to hold a place of honor among the song birds. And if the bird chooses an early hour and a secluded spot for expressing its happiness, the melody is none the less delightful. At the little village of Buenos Aires, on the Rio Grande of Terraba, I heard the song more frequently than at any other point. Close by the ranch house at which we were staying, there is a small stream bordered by low woods and underbrush, that formed a favorite resort for the birds. Just below the ranch is a convenient spot where we took our morning bath. I was always there just as the day was breaking. On the opposite bank was a small open space in the brush occupied by the limbs of a dead tree. On one of these branches, and always the same one, was the spot chosen by a Red-rump to pour forth his morning song. Some mornings I found him busy with his music when I arrived, and again he would be a few minutes behind me. Sometimes he would come from one direction, sometimes from another, but he always alighted at the same spot and then lost no time in commencing his song. While singing, the body was swayed to and fro, much after the manner of a canary while singing. The song would last for perhaps half an hour, and then away the singer would go. I have not enough musical ability to describe the song, but will say that often I remained standing quietly for a long time, only that I might listen to the music.”

Lee’s Addition:

The Red-Rumped Tanager has of course been renamed and renamed again. Tracking this bird was not too difficult because of its “red-rump.” It appears the bird became known as the Scarlet-rumped Tanager and now recently has been split into two species. According to Wikipedia – “The Cherrie’s TanagerRamphocelus costaricensis, is a medium-sized passerine bird. This tanager is a resident breeder in the Pacific lowlands of Costa Rica and western Panama. This bird was formerly known as the Scarlet-rumped Tanager, but was split as a separate species from the Caribbean form, which was itself renamed as Passerini’s Tanager,Ramphocelus passerinii. While most authorities have accepted this split, there are notable exceptions (e.g. the Howard and Moore checklist).

So now you see why I have so much “fun” every three months updating my Birds of the World pages when the IOC (International Ornithologists’ Union) updates their Birds of the World List. That is the standard used for this site.

Take you choice. Is it the Passerini’s Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii)?

Passerini's Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) Male ©

Passerini’s Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) Male ©

Passerini’s Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii) Xeno-canto org

Or is it the Cherrie’s Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis)?

Cherrie's Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) WikiC

Cherrie’s Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis) WikiC

Cherrie’s Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis)

Or is it the Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus)?

Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus) ©WikiC

Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus) ©WikiC

Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus) by

Which ever one you choose, they are all in the same Genus called Ramphocelus. They are silver-beaked tanagers and are found in Central and South America. They all like fruit and insects and are closely related.

Crimson-collared Tanager (Ramphocelus sanguinolentus )
Masked Crimson Tanager (Ramphocelus nigrogularis )
Crimson-backed Tanager (Ramphocelus dimidiatus )
Huallaga Tanager (Ramphocelus melanogaster )
Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo )
Brazilian Tanager (Ramphocelus bresilia )
Passerini’s Tanager (Ramphocelus passerinii )
Cherrie’s Tanager (Ramphocelus costaricensis )
Flame-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus flammigerus )
Lemon-rumped Tanager (Ramphocelus icteronotus )

And they stripped him, and put on him a scarlet robe. And when they had platted a crown of thorns, they put it upon his head, and a reed in his right hand: and they bowed the knee before him, and mocked him, saying, Hail, King of the Jews! (Matthew 27:28-29 KJV)

Birds Illustrated by Color Photograhy Vol 1 January 1897 No 1 - Cover

Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited – Introduction

The above article is the eighth article in the monthly serial that was started in January 1897 “designed to promote Knowledge of Bird-Live.” These include Color Photography, as they call them, today they are drawings. There are at least three Volumes that have been digitized by Project Gutenberg.

To see the whole series of – Birds Illustrated by Color Photography – Revisited


(Information from Wikipedia and other internet sources)

Next Article – The Golden Oriole

Previous Article – The Yellow Throated Toucan

ABC’s of the Gospel


Birds of the World

Tanagers and Allies – Thraupidae Family

Ramphocelus – Wikipedia