None can resist the beauty and diversity of Tanagers. They are the second largest family of birds in the Americas and only found in our continent ranging from Canada to Argentina.
As of July 2020 the family contains 383 species which are divided into 15 subfamilies and 106 genera; as far as Costa Rican Species there are 51 of them found from electrical wires to densely overgrown understories. They feed mostly on berries, fruits and insects. They also attend mixed flocks and sometimes are within the hundreds of individuals as in Tapanti or Braulio Carrillo’s National Parks. During a Christmas count at Tapanti in 1999 a flock of nearly 100 Spangle cheeked Tanagers landed on a Cow’s tongue bush (Miconia sp); this species is endemic to Costa Rica/Panama mid elevations.
Tanagers are relatively common finds in our country and can be located in pastures on scattered bushes and at the rainforest canopy walks as those in Heliconias Lodge Upala. As mentioned above Tanagers are mostly fruit eaters yet they could immediately change diet if they join a mixed flock going from berries to bugs. A case studied by Perez-Riviera 1991-92.
The median size birds of 14 cm approx.; up to 29 cm to be the largest and the majority of species are found in an altitude belt of 1000 meters; therefore, the highest number of species would be located below it. Although due the high endemism of Talamanca’s range and the divided continental differences between lowland places such as La Selva Biological Station and Carara National Park (both to be the bird richest areas at lower elevations, about 50 meters from sea level); this gorgeous family of birds might have the biggest concentration of species at Caribbean foothills in the center of the country geographically speaking such as Turrialba’s intermountain valleys, a perfect example of this tremendous diversity is Pejibaye’s Rainforest; a small sugar farmed quaint village 2 1/2 hours away from San Jose. Very well described on our website and one of our star destinations for birding and photography equally. We had not only witnessed mind boggling numbers of species and quantities of birds in a single 150 meter walk along the woody deck of our lodge. Daily they come and go in big waves mostly during overcast and even during moderate rainfall. 19 species of them have been photographed on the nearby bushes to the main building, some of the most remarkable sightings are Blue and Gold, Black and Yellow, Ashy throated but amongst them Summer, Hepatic, Western, Golden hooded, Bay headed, Silvery throated, Speckled Tanagers, etc. Also visiting the same fruiting tree (Melastomatacea) are Dacnis, Honeycreepers, Euphonias, etc.
Costa Rica Birding Journeys could easily design a tour focus on this marvelous family; due is colourful bodies, interesting feeding behaviour and their chaotic flies during a mixed flock. Tanagers is a family worth studying for amateurs or nature lovers. For those more into filming with DSLR’s is absolutely a must during any trip to Costa Rica.
Extremely important for habitat restoration, most tanagers are good seed dispersers but common ones such as Scarlet rumped, Blue gray, Palm, Chlorospingus sp; are probably crucial for the renovation of human disturbed land. With nearly a year of observation over a small patch of tertiary forest at Jaco Beach, we can accurately say that on the first 3 months of forest” growing most seed dispersal was done by Scarlet rumped, Palm and Blue grey Tanagers, of course other bird species such as seedaters, saltators, trogons etc were important to the developing of the forest track, we continuously saw more and more tanagers to come. One of the many important trees to be propagated by tanagers, euphonias and alike are Cecropia Trees or as we called The Bird Tree due the 400 + species that feed on them nationwide.
Their reproduction as in many species females take on the lead for nest construction nonetheless males provide the “fancy materials” parental feeding is held by both members as far as we know or at least for Costa Rica.