Tanagers for most birders are synonymous with brilliantly colors, burry songs and summertime. In eastern North America, it’s the stunning Scarlet Tanager in shining red and black and beautiful cozy-red Summer Tanagers. In the west, the Western Tanager adorns the conifers, looking like an orange-faced king of the goldfinches while the brick-red Hepatic Tanager lives in the mountains of Arizona and New Mexico. None of these 4 is dull, and all have pleasant, lazy summer songs; quality perching birds.
As one heads south of the border, towards the epicenter of “tanagerism”, things get a bit more complicated. Somewhat like North American warblers, there is a tanager species for most every habitat and situation. The further south one goes, the more species there are with an especially dizzying array of tanagers in the Andes. The Tangara genus in particular is filled with birds that resemble living jewels. Costa Rica has a few Tangara species, Golden-hooded being a common bird of the humid lowlands.
Not all Tanagers are brightly colored. One of the most common, the Palm Tanager, is a fairly dull bird at least in terms of plumage. Aptly named, these guys are seriously in love with palms. A non-forest species, There isn’t a morning that goes by when I don’t hear the squeaky song of a pair of Palm Tanagers issuing from the monstrous palms that tower in front of our apartment. No doubt they are expressing their joy because they believe they moved on up (like George and Wheezie) into one of the best high-rises in San Jose.
Palm Tanagers and one Great Kiskadee
Although not the fanciest of species to look at, like other common birds, it pays to learn this one well to pick out two other, uncommon, similar birds; Plain-colored Tanager and Sulphur-rumped Tanager.
Plain-colored Tanager; note the smaller bill and bit of black on the face. In good light it also shows a buffy wash to the belly and vent. Forget about that blue in the wing- you almost never see it!
I wish I had a picture of the other one! While Plain-colored is regularly seen, the Sulphur-rumped is a downright rarity with very little known about it. It is hardly ever seen and is one of the birds that yours truly still needs for a lifer! With luck, I will finally catch up with Sulphur-rumped Tanager in May when I head to Manzanillo in the southeast.
Look for Palm Tanagers anywhere you see palms; this is one you are not going to miss.
Look for Plain-colored in forested areas and edge of the Caribbean lowlands. The La Selva entrance road is good.
Aside from in your dreams, look for Sulphur-rumped around Cahuita, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca and Manzanillo or in Buryabar, Panama.