Published On: Tue, Oct 11th, 2016


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Silver-beaked Tanager, Ramphocelus carbo, Tangara Picoplata (SpanishMaroon Tanager, Common Silverbeak

One half hour from the Bolivian border, I amble carefully along the high-rise bank of the Madre de Dios River, part of the Peruvian Amazon Rainforest. During the end of the dry season, I made a great choice to be here now because this area received 16 feet of rain last year.

Madre de Dios, Mother of God, what an appropriate name. As this river is about half a mile wide, the longest bridge in Peru spans this river. But wait, a bird flicks its wings and tail before it flies from branch to branch in this low canopy.

From a distance did that black bird have a white moustache on either side of its beak? Maybe it will come closer for me to photograph it.


Silver beaked tanager male looks black from a distance

Silver-beaked Tanager male looks black from a distance

Oh, but that whiteness is the bottom mandible of this fruit/nectar/insect eater, a Silver-beaked Tanager.  Up close, that plumage looks like dark scarlet velvet, not black.

Lower silver bill of silver beaked tanager

Lower silver bill of Silver-beaked Tanager


Scarlet velvet of silver beaked tanager

Scarlet velvet of Silver-beaked Tanager

Of course his female partner lacks the deep crimson feathers and silver bill of this intriguing male. Those shades of brown and red serve as camouflage for a nesting female.

Dull colors of silver beaked tanager female

Dull colors of Silver-beaked Tanager female

The male calls “chick-chick-chick” for about 10 minutes before the female returns. Upon arrival,  she feeds on the scarlet pulp of a guava. About half of this tanager’s diet consists of fruit.

Male silver beaked tanager calls female to dine on fruit

Male Silver-beaked Tanager calls female to dine on fruit


Female silver beaked tanager feeding on fruit

Female Silver-beaked Tanager feeding on fruit


Silver beaked tanager dines on fruit insects and nectar

Silver-beaked Tanager dines on fruit insects and nectar

Why that silver-tongued devil invited her to dine on that juicy delicacy!


After she finishes her fruity delight, she flies to bathe in a nearby stream. When another female lands nearby, she defends her space with a crouching posture and open mouth to gape quietly. The second female leaves.

Crouched body with gaping mouth of Silver-beaked Tanager defense behavior

Crouched body with gaping mouth of Silver-beaked Tanager defense behavior


Silver beaked tanager shakes off water

Silver-beaked Tanager shakes off water

Endemic to South America this resident breeder occurs in lower tropical zones basically in the upper half of S. America and also in Trinidad. Some inhabit dry habitats but this tanager is often common in scrub, suburban areas, gardens, forest borders, and in bushy vegetation along riverbanks where I now walk. This five to seven inch bird may be the most abundant species in its range.

Somewhat territorial, the male will sing at dawn to define his 30’ radius turf. Most of the time, this tanager lives in a group of four-eight individuals. However, a feeding frenzy could have 30 or more in the food fight.

Silver beaked tanager male

Silver-beaked Tanager male

Aha! That silver bill does function to attract the female during breeding. He points his bill upward to show off that bright mandible. Breeding seems to occur any month of the year depending on the location of this species. How appropriate during December when….silver bills, silver bills, it Christmas time for the male tanagers.

The time I felt observing this species felt like Christmas to me too!




DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species.,, Birds of Venezuela, The Birds of South America, Vol. 1 The Oscine Passerines,, Daniel F. Lane:


Cherie Pittillo, “nature inspired,” photographer and author, explores nature everywhere she goes. She’s identified 56 bird species in her Merida, Yucatan backyard view. Her column, published on the 7th and 21st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact:  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo



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