Shyamala Rao - Artist
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Welcome to my blog. This will be an ongoing blog in which I will discuss things I am working on, as well as my thoughts on wildlife conservation. Please come back to this page regularly, as I will update it from time to time.

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April 7, 2013

Miracles of Migration Series IV: The Scarlet Tanager

Filed under: Uncategorized — admin @ 8:35 am

The Scarlet Tanager is a brilliant stunning punch of color during spring in Texas. Many different migrating birds begin to come to the Texas Gulf Coast in the spring and the Scarlet Tanager is one of those, most commonly seen in East Texas. According to the “Birds of Texas” by Arnold and Kennedy these birds are uncommon to common in Texas as Spring Migrants. Which , of course means when one is a relative novice the chances of sighting are slim. I was very fortunate to see the Male Scarlet Tanager at Smith Oaks Nature Preserve in April 2012 during migration. He was heart stoppingly beautiful, absolutely stunning in his brilliant bright red plumage contrasting with the black wings and tail. Time stood still as I watched this gorgeous confection of a bird seek out the ripe mulberries that were plentiful in the trees at Smith Oaks. The female Scarlet Tanager was also around and very beautiful with an olive back, greenish yellow underparts and brown wings and tail. These were a handsome couple even among the all the beautiful and gorgeous song bird population of North America.



Even though the name suggests otherwise the Scarlet Tanager is now classified with the Cardinal family. The birds when full grown are about 7 inches in length and weigh about an ounce and a quarter. The Scarlet Tanagers migrate back to the Northern hemisphere between April and May. Flocks of Scarlet tanagers have been followed and studied and they are found to fly at night at a height of 2000 feet above the water as they fly from the Yucatan to the Gulf Coast of the US. As the sun rises the birds appear to seek higher altitude and fly at heights of between 3000 and 5000 feet for about 30 to 60 miles before coming down to rest and to feed. They move towards the North East and settle into the woods of the North Eastern US and all of Southern Canada. They build their nests and settle deep into the woods. They are hard to see as they stay close to the top of the canopy. Their diet consists of insects mostly and they forage on fruit and seeds as well. They are brilliant at catching insects on the wing.


Once the Scarlet tanagers choose a site they build nests and lay between 2 and 4 eggs. They prefer to be deep in the interior of the woods since their nests are popular with Cowbirds. The Cowbirds lay their eggs in the nests of the Scarlet tanagers and the chicks of the cowbirds are aggressive feeders and crowd out and starve out the tanager chicks. This is a serious problem and causes the numbers of Scarlet Tanagers to plunge steeply and they are indeed declining in numbers. Scarlet Tanagers are not on the endangered list as yet. The chicks are fed insects by both parents and fledge at 5 to 6 weeks. They learn to catch insects and develop their flying skills rapidly.

In September and October the Scarlet Tanagers begin flying south as part of their fall migration pattern. They fly to Mexico and all of Central and into South America for the winter months. They can be seen from central Mexico down Central America all the way south to Peru. The distance from Southern Canada to Peru is 3800 miles one way. A round trip of 7400 miles every year in their annual migration and it is long and hazardous journey but one in which they participate with regularity, year after year. We in Texas are fortunate to be in the migratory path and get to see these gorgeous birds every spring and again in the fall.


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