Scarlet Tanagers: Bright, exotic, and rarely seen

article by Rose Collison, photos by Patrice Johnson

Startlingly bright male scarlet tanagers strike those lucky enough to sight them as too exotic for northeastern woodlands. Actually, these birds are fairly common in oak forests around Stockbridge, but they often remain out of sight as they forage in the leafy upper branches.

In spring the tanagers arrive in the local area from their winter home in South America. This year, a late freeze and cold weather slowed the emergence of insects, so hunger forced the shy birds to show themselves along roadsides, in gardens…and at the chance suet feeder.

These breath-taking birds may hover momentarily while taking an item and sometimes fly out to catch insects in mid air. While their winter diets are poorly known, in the Stockbridge area, they feast on a diet of mostly insects, wild fruits and berries.

The oriole-sized bird usually lays two to five eggs, pale blue-green with spots of brown or reddish brown. Incubation, by the female only, runs 12 to 14 days. Both parents feed the nestlings, although the male may do less of the feeding. Fleglings leave the nest about 9 to 15 days after hatching and are tended mostly by their mother for two weeks.

Suet. Yum!

In spring the tanagers arrive in the local area from their winter home in South America. This year, a late freeze and cold weather slowed the emergence of insects, so hunger forced the shy birds to show themselves along roadsides, in gardens…and at the chance suet feeder.

“Ah, peanut butter, my favorite,” this male scarlet tanager says.

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