Share it! Science : See it? Share it! Scarlet Tanager

Sunday, June 14, 2015

See it? Share it! Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager (image credit: Matt Tillett)
     I love those moments when nature surprises and amazes us. Recently we were out for an early morning dog walk and I saw a burst of bright red high up in a tree. I was excited to see that it was a Scarlet Tanager! I had never seen one of these in "real life" so it was a bit of a thrill. Although I've never spotted one bird watching before, it is hard to identify the male Scarlet Tanager incorrectly. They are a sight with their blazing red bodies and dark black wings.

     Our morning walk takes us through an unfragmented mixed evergreen and deciduous forest, which is perfect Scarlet Tanager habitat. You can find them in North America during the summer, but they migrate to South America for the winter months. The female of the species is not as conspicuous as the male with yellow-green feathers and dark wings. The tanager feeds mostly on insects and some berries. They are often difficult to spot because they spend a lot of time high in the tree canopy.

     It must be an exceptionally active time of year for these birds, because low and behold I saw another a few days later while driving some back roads not far from my home. My husband saw another in a different nearby location, and a friend saw another one within the same week! Pretty amazing!

     We were excited to add another bird to our bird list. We like to keep track by adding them to our list on, a site run by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon. After adding a bird to our account we always check to see where else it has been spotted. If it is something that is difficult to spot, like the tanager, it is exciting to see if others have seen and reported it, or if you have been the first. We found that there have been many of these beautiful birds spotted in our area.

     Not all birds are as easily identified as this one. If you spot a bird that you are unsure of, you can try to find it in a field guide, or use one of several online or app options. Cornell's All About Birds website is one of my favorites because they have lots of information, recordings of bird calls, etc. Another that is helpful in identification is If you are looking for an identification app, you might try Cornell's "Merlin". Merlin asks you several questions about the bird's size, shape, color and behavior and then generates some possible matches with images. This app gets its information from eBird, so if no one has submitted any data about a particular bird in your area, then you might not see it listed from your description.

If you like birds you might want to check out some of my other posts about birds and nature:
Have had an exciting bird watch lately? Comment below!

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