Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Hepatic Tanager

The second tanager among my old photographs was this Hepatic Tanager, seen at my aunt’s ranch near El Galpon in northwestern Argentina. The date was 27 July 1965. I listed Hepatic Tanagers again in Big Bend National Park on 17 July 1966, and many times in Peru in 1972 and 1973.

I took a double-take when I looked at this photo after all these years. It seems way too red on the head, compared in Hepatic Tanagers in the United States. Our birds have much more dusky ear coverts. A review of Eddleman (2002) reveals that, what we now call Hepatic Tanagers, may actually be three species. The Hepatic Tanager inhabits North and Central America, the Tooth-billed Tanager is found from Costa Rica to Bolivia, and the Red Tanager, like the one in my photograph, encountered in open areas of the Amazon Basin to northern Argentina. (Handbook of Birds—Alive! recognizes these three species, calling them Northern Hepatic, Highland Hepatic, and Lowland Hepatic tanagers.)

Tanager taxonomy is further confused at the genus level. Molecular work indicates that Hepatic Tanagers are closely related to Western and Flame-colored Tanagers, and less so to Summer or Scarlet Tanagers. Furthermore, the genus to which Hepatic Tanagers belong, Piranga, appears to be more closely related to grosbeaks than they are to other tanagers (Handbook of Birds—Alive!).

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