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Tanagers

Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Emberizidae
Genus and Species: Silver-beaked Tanager: Ramphocelus carbo, Blue-grey Tanager: Thraupis episcopus
  • small maroon songbird on perch
  • small brown songbird in tree
  • small maroon songbird with silver beak
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Tanagers

Blue-gray and silver-beaked tanagers are colorful bird species native to South America. They eat mainly fruit and insects. They are classified as a species of Least Concern by IUCN.

Physical Description

Blue-gray tanagers are, on average, 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and weigh an ounce (28 grams). Adults are not sexually dimorphic and have pale gray underparts, head and throat. The pale gray becomes bluer on the flanks. The back is a darker blue-gray, and the rump and tail are brighter blue. The wings are bright sky-blue, which is darker on the primary coverts and shoulders. The young appear much duller and grayer overall.

In silver-beaked tanagers, the males are velvety-black above with dark maroon overtones. The throat and chest are dark crimson, becoming blackish-maroon on the lower underparts. The lower mandible is very prominent and a striking silver-white in color. Females are dark reddish-brown above and mostly paler, duller reddish-brown below. The lower mandible of the female is much less prominent than the male's and is grayish to dull silver in color.

Size

Both species are on average 6 inches (15 centimeters) long and weigh about an ounce (28 grams).

Native Habitat

Blue-gray tanagers are native to Central Mexico and the Brazilian Amazon as well as the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Blue-gray tanagers have been introduced to Lima, Peru and Miami, Florida. They prefer semi-open areas, including forest edges and clearings. This species does very well in and around human settlements and frequents bird feeders.

Silver-beaked tanagers are native to northern South America. They prefer bushy habitats and forest borders, especially near water.

Food/Eating Habits

In the wild, they eat mostly fruit and insects as well as some nectar.

Their diet at the Smithsonian's National Zoo consists of fruit, eggs and live food such as mealworms, corn grubs, wax worms and crickets.

Social Structure

Blue-gray tanagers live in pairs but will sometimes roost in large flocks. Pairs establish territories and may exhibit aerial displays. They are very active and can be aggressive to each other and other species of birds.

Silver-beaked tanagers have been known to live in large groups of 30 or more and will join in feeding aggregations at fruiting trees. Silver-beaked tanagers also mingle with mixed-species flocks.

Reproduction and Development

In the wild, silver-beaked tanagers begin reproducing between one and two years of age. They nest low to the ground up to a height of 24 feet (7.3 meters). The female builds a deep and tightly woven nest, composed of dead leaves and fibers. Usually, two eggs are laid on consecutive days. Eggs are blue to greenish-blue in color and are flecked with blackish-brown, especially near the large end. The female incubates the eggs for 12 days. Both parents feed the chicks, which fledge in 12 to 14 days. Breeding season varies and individuals do not appear to defend a territory. In captivity, silver-beaked tanagers have produced offspring from the ages of 1 to 11 years.

Blue-grays nest from 10 to 66 feet (3 to 20 meters) above the ground. Nests are usually well-concealed in the fork of a small tree, in a tall shrub or in palm fronds. Both sexes build the nest, with the female typically playing a larger role. Blue-grays have been reported to use nests of other birds. They will modify nests of larger birds or steal nests from smaller birds.

One to three (usually two) eggs are laid on consecutive days and incubated by the female for 12 to 14 days. The eggs are variable in color, usually grayish-blue or grayish-green mottled with brown. The male and female feed the nestlings, which fledge at 17 to 18 days. Often two clutches are raised each season. Breeding seasons vary throughout the range, with the majority between March and September.

Lifespan

Their lifespan is unknown in the wild, but blue-gray tanagers have been known to live up to 12 years in human care, and silver-beaked tanagers have been known to live up to 17 years.

Both species are listed as of least concern on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. The silver-beaked is one of the few tanagers to consistently breed in human care. They have adapted well to human presence and quickly colonize open areas.