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What's This?

Picture 12

Submitted by Adrian Binns

This tanager (Piranga sp) was photographed on Sept 20, 2005 in my backyard in Langhorne, Bucks Co.

It shows an overall yellowish plumage with even colored dusky green wings, as well as a large horn colored bill.

Rare birds do show up and should never be discounted, but it is best to first make sure that you can eliminate the obvious or likely candidate. In my area Scarlet is more likely than Summer, which is practically at the northern edge of its range here in Lower Bucks County and across the river in Central New Jersey. Western is a rare vagrant, while Hepatic has yet to be recorded.

Several possibilities exist as to what it could be – a female Scarlet, a female Summer or winter / non-breeding plumaged male Scarlet. We can eliminate Western because this bird lacks wingbars and does not show an orangish bill. Hepatic can also be eliminated because this bird lacks gray auriculars and a dark bill. A non-breeding male Scarlet Tanager would likely show darker / black wings, so this leaves us with either a female Scarlet or Summer.

There are at least 2 noticeable identification marks on this photo that can identify this bird.
1. We tend to think that a large horn colored bill belongs to Summer’s, but Scarlet also show this color. Summer bills are very long and in this photo it is hard to tell just how long it is. However, there is a distinct tooth on the upper mandible of this bird, which is not found on a Summer.

2. The underside of the tail is gray, whereas on a Summer it is greenish.

3. Though we can not really see this in this photo, it does appear that the head is rounded, versus the slight crest that a Summer often shows

In trying to age this bird there are a couple of clues that help.
1. The iris looks to be a blackish-brown color. In a juvenile Scarlet the iris is grayish. In a hatch year or second year bird, i.e., within it’s first 12 months of life; the iris is grayish to grayish brown.

2. The primary coverts are rounded, whereas in a bird that is in its first 12 months of life (hatch year or second year), they would be tapered.


This bird is an adult female Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), in at least its second calendar year, therefore older than 12 months.



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