Published On: Tue, Feb 21st, 2017

BACKYARD BIRDING IN MERIDA, YUCATAN AND BEYOND –VIOLINISTAS AND BLUE JEANS: Blue-gray Tanager

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BLUE-GRAY TANAGER Thraupis episcopus, Tángara Azulgris (Spanish)

 

Blue-gray Tanager

Blue-gray Tanager

 

When I visited my Granny as a five year old, she let me play with a three inch, hollow, bright blue plastic bird. After I poured water into a small hole in its almost upright tail, I blew into the tail tip which produced a sound like a bird warbling or singing. In fact it was a water whistle.

 

Now decades later, that memory resurfaced in both the Yucatan and Peru in the living form of another blue bird, the Blue-gray Tanager. In the Yucatan, this species is actually blue and gray. (What a relief for a common name to fit the species!)

In the Yucatan and Lima Peru, the Blue-gray Tanager is blue and gray

In the Yucatan and Lima Peru, the Blue-gray Tanager is blue and gray

Introduced in Lima, Peru, it looks like our species in the Yucatan. Often named, “blue bird of the garden,” friend Lidia of Lima shared they are called, “Violinistas”.

 

Listen to the Blue-gray Tanager’s song, and understand my memory of the bird whistle and their name in Lima:

http://macaulaylibrary.org/audio/70762

 

This six-to-seven inch songbird occurs in gardens, city parks, plantations, and forest edge in open country from eastern Mexico down to Peru and Brazil. Introduced in Trinidad and Tobago, I like its nickname there, “Blue Jean.”

I often see this tanager flying from second-storied buildings in Merida to scattered tree tops within the city. They also live at Eco-Park (Parque Hundido) and are common permanent residents in the peninsula.

Imagine my surprise when I saw this Blue-gray Tanager in Peru, not in Lima but in the Amazon rainforest.

 

Blue-gray Tanager in Peruvian Amazon

Blue-gray Tanager in Peruvian Amazon

 

Blue-gray Tanager in Peruvian rainforest

Blue-gray Tanager in Peruvian rainforest

 

Some subspecies of Blue-gray Tanagers sport white wing coverts like this subspecies in the Peruvian Amazon

Some subspecies of Blue-gray Tanagers sport white wing coverts like this subspecies in the Peruvian Amazon

This subspecies wears white on its wing.

Something else I noticed in common in the Yucatan and in Peru is how light is reflected on their wings to almost a Caribbean blue:

Sunlight reflects on the Blue-gray Tanager wings to a Caribbean Blue in the Yucatan

Sunlight reflects on the Blue-gray Tanager wings to a Caribbean Blue in the Yucatan

 

Bright wings of Blue-gray Tanager in rainforest edge in Peru

Bright wings of Blue-gray Tanager in rainforest edge in Peru

It seems all 14 subspecies dine on fruits, leaves, nectar and berries but may add spiders, termites, and caterpillars to round out their omnivorous diet. While foraging, it may look head down along limbs or underneath limbs or scan foliage for insects.

Blue-gray Tanager looks head down for food on and under limbs and foliage

Blue-gray Tanager looks head down for food on and under limbs and foliage

 

Blue-gray Tanager gleans critters from tree limbs

Blue-gray Tanager gleans critters from tree limbs

Typically I saw only pairs but they may flock in small mixed groups during the non-breeding season. Otherwise this species is monogamous, makes a soft, cup-shaped nest lined with spider webs for their two chicks. Reminds me of that song, “Baby’s got her BLUE JEANS on”.

 

Maybe that’s why both the male and female sing, or maybe they’re just happy to be “forever in blue jeans”!

 

GO OUTDOORS TO HEAR NATURE’S SONG AND RENEW YOUR SENSES.

 

DISCLAIMER: References do not agree on details about this species. Sal a Pajarear, A Guide to the Birds of Mexico and Northern Central America

http://www.hbw.com/species/blue-grey-tanager-thraupis-episcopus

https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/10295-Thraupis-episcopus

http://neotropical.birds.cornell.edu/portal/species/overview?p_p_spp=599756

 

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 1st of each month, features anecdotes about birding in Merida, Yucatan and beyond. Contact: all4birdies@gmail.com  All rights reserved, ©Cherie Pittillo

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