Flame-colored Tanagers

In Costa Rica, Flame-colored Tanagers (Piranga bidentata) are fairly common in the mountains of the Pacific slope from about 4000 feet (1219 m) to near the tree line. They are uncommon on the Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and are usually found only at the higher elevations. Flame-colored Tanagers range from northwestern Mexico to western Panama in Central America, and they are even accidental visitors to the United States in southeastern Arizona.

In May of 2007, I observed this male Flame-colored Tanager and a number of others in San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica in the Cordillera de Talamanca or Talamanca Mountains.

Male Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata)

Male Flame-colored Tanagers are orange with a brownish cheek patch and have a dark bill with a black upper mandible and a gray lower mandible, dark eyes, a black-streaked olive-green back, dark gray-brown wings with two white wingbars, and a dark gray-brown tail. The males I observed in Costa Rica ranged in color from light orange to brilliant red-orange.

Male Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata)

Female Flame-colored Tanagers are similar to the males but are yellow instead of orange. This female Flame-colored Tanager had just captured a fat beetle, and she then proceeded to crush the unfortunate beetle into mush in her beak before she swallowed it.

Female Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata)

Besides beetles and other insects, Flame-colored Tanagers feed on a variety of fruits. I observed these Flame-colored Tanagers and many other fruit-loving birds feeding on half-eaten apples in an apple orchard there in San Gerardo de Dota. A family of Acorn Woodpeckers (Melanerpes formicivorus) had claimed this apple orchard as their own, and they became enraged when other birds poached their apples. I observed the Acorn Woodpeckers attacking and temporarily driving away both the fruit-loving Flame-colored Tanagers and also Blue-gray Tanagers (Thraupis episcopus) from their treasured apples.

While male Flame-colored Tanagers are orange and the females yellow, immature male Flame-colored Tanagers are a little of both colors and have an unusual patchy appearance that makes them look even more fiery and flame-like than the adults.

Immature male Flame-colored Tanager (Piranga bidentata)

San Gerardo de Dota, Costa Rica is in the oak cloud forest, and the weather there is often foggy and rainy, but the brilliant, fiery colors of the Flame-colored Tanagers made them very easy to spot despite the dismal gloom of the wet cloud forest weather.