Monday, September 3, 2012

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanagers have an interesting molt sequence. The bird in this photo was banded in Northfield on Saturday, 2 September 2012. The unwary might identify it as a female. In fact, this tanager is a first-year male. The key is the jet-black wing coverts. Juvenal male and female Scarlet tanagers are probably inseparable. In their first fall, as the juvenal males molt in their first basic (winter) plumage, their grayish-brown coverts are replaced by jet-black feathers. But their brownish-gray juvenal flight feathers are retained. The following spring, the males become orange-red to scarlet. The next fall, the male again becomes greenish-yellow, but, this time, the wings and the coverts remain black. Thus you can identify first-year fall and winter males from ones in their second-year (and beyond).

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