Buntings and Tanagers

Buntings and Tanagers

The term bunting is derived evidently from an old English word “bundle,” the original meaning of which is somewhat obscure. Whatever its meaning, the name was given to several grain-eating, ground-feeding birds in Western Europe.

The name was later carried by early settlers and pioneers from Britain to other parts of the world and there applied to some not particularly closely related birds: in North America, for example, to some members of the subfamily Car-dyeline, the cardinal grosbeaks. Ironically, most true buntings of the New World are called sparrows.

The true buntings almost certainly evolved in the New World. More than three-quarters of the world’s species are found in the Americas, and there occupy a diverse and broad range of habitats. Of the 6o orzo species in North America, for example, we find species inhabiting arctic tundra, boreal forest, prairies and meadows, deserts, alpine meadows, salt and freshwater marshes, and oak and pine woods.

Probably, ancestral open-country buntings crossed the Bering Sea into Asia, the genus Emblemize evolving in temperate Asia where it is best represented, and spreading westward into European Africa. Interestingly enough, there are only a couple of buntings breeding in tropical Asia, the Crested bunting and the Chinese blue bunting, and the group has failed to penetrate or persist in the East Indies–Australasia region, although the Cirl bunting and the yellowhammer have been introduced with some success into New Zealand.

The true buntings are characterized by a stout, conical bill adapted for crushing and taking the husks off seeds. The upper and lower parts of the bill can be moved side-ways in some species; juncos for example are particularly adept at manipulating cracking and discarding the husks of seeds with their bills.

True buntings show considerable diversity in plumage and voice somberly plumaged species such as the Corn bunting, dull grayish-brown with heavy streaks, contrast with the more brightly-plumaged ones, such as the yellowhammer with bright yellow underparts and streaked yellow head, and the Lapland longspur with black, chestnut and white head markings. In temperate and arctic regions, buntings are mostly monogamous, with a few males attracting more than one female in some species studied.

The Lark bunting and Corn bunting, however, are usually polygamous. With some males reportedly attracting up to seven females at a time, and other males within a population attracting no female atoll. It is generally supposed that this mating system occurs when there are large differences in the quality of territory among males. So a female is better off pairing with an already mated male in a good territory rather than with a bachelor male in a poor territory.

Most species are territorial. In migratory species, the male arrives before the female and defends the territory against other males. Often the male reoccupies the same territory he held the year before. Most breed-in activities courting, pairing, and nesting. And raising young occur within the territory.

Collecting food for young mayor may not occur within territory boundaries American tree sparrows defend large territories, usually more than ‘ha (2.5 acres).within which food is collected, whereas Clay-colored sparrows defend small territories of usually less than L000sq m L000sq ft) and forage exclusively outside the territory, often on communal feeding grounds.

Once the breeding season is over, territorial boundaries break down and adults and young gather together in loose flocks. Courtship in buntings usually involves amole advertising his presence by singing. When a female approaches, the male dives and chases her through the vegetation. These courtship chases frequently involve the male buffeting the female, and end with both birds tumbling to the ground in massif feathers.

Song flights occur in open-country species; males of Lapland longspurs, Snow buntings in the Arctic and Chestnut-collared longspurs, and Lark buntings on the North American prairies, for example, typically rise a few meters above ground and then slowly circle back to earth, holding their wings at an angle above the body, and uttering their song. Nests are usually placed on the ground or low in a hush and tend to be neat compact cups built of dried vegetation (grass, weeds) and lined with hair, mosses, fine vegetation fibers, wool, and/or feathers.

Females are usually solely responsible for incubating eggs and brooding young, and males usually contribute substantially to feeding young, at both the nestling and the fledgling stages. The Plush-capped finch is somewhat of an enigma. Little is known of its reproductive biology, vocalizations, foraging, or social behavior; most of what we do know comes from collecting trips in South America and from museum specimens. Adults measure about T 5cm (6in) in length, and have striking plumage: dark gray upperparts, chestnut underparts, and black nape.

And yellow crown of stiff, erect, “plush-like” feathers hence the name. In overall appearance, this bird resembles the tanagers, except that it has a short, thick, stubby bill more akin to tithe buntings– indeed, it appears to be a link between these two groups. Plush-capped finches inhabit forest edges and clearings in the cloud forests of the Andes from Venezuela to northern Argentina. Reports from Colombia and Ecuador indicate that it forages close to the ground.

Eats insects, and occurs primarily on its owner in pairs, but will join mixed-species flocks to contemplate the colorful, constantly changing throng of tanagers, peaceably eat- in a tree laden with berries, which is one of the delights of bird watching in the tropics. From warm lowlands to high, cold moon trains, their amazingly varied plumage adds touches of warm color to the foliage of trees and shrubs. The small tanagers of the genusTarigara display every bright color in the most varied patterns: one of them, the Paradise tanager, is splendidly attired in scarlet, golden yellow, shining apple green, purplish blue, turquoise, and black.

Tanagers are compactly built, with short to medium-length and often rather thick bills, generally notched or hooked at the tip. Their tails are short to medium-length, and their wings have only nine primary feathers instead of the usual ion. With one known exception, even the most brilliant tropical tanagers wear the same colors throughout the year.

Of the four species that nest north of Mexico, the Scarlet tanager, which performs the longest migration, shows the greatest seas-, anal color changes in the male from scarlet to yellowish; male Western and Hepatic tanagers travel less far and change only slightly; male Summer tanagers wintering the tropics in their full coats of red. At the other extreme of the family’s range, the three partly migratory species Diademed, Blue-and-yellow, and Sayara breed far south as central Argentina change little. Wholly tropical tanagers are nonmigratory but may wander up and down the mountains with the changing seasons.

In the small tanagers of genus Angara, and many other tanagers that are paired throughout the year, the sexes are nearly or quite alike. Among tanagers that travel in small flocks in which pairs are not obvious, the female may be much duller than the male, as in the Scarlet-rumped tanager and the Yellow-romped tanager. Largely fruit-eating, the tanagers are probably by far the most important disseminators of tropical American trees and shrubs, as they do not digest the seeds that they swallow.

Tanagers vary their diet with insects gleaned from foliage or caught in there. Some work along horizontal limbs, bending over now on this side and now on that to pluck insects and spiders from the lower side. Species other than honeycreepers occasionally sip nectar. Summer tanagers, expert fly-catchers, tear open wasps’ nests to eat larvae and pupae.

Gray-headed tanagers regularly accompany the mixed flocks of small birds that follow army ants to capture insects that the ants drive up from the ground litter. The Rose-breasted thrush-tanager is one of its few members that forage on the ground, flicking aside fallen leaves with its bill. Although tanagers are nearly always monogamous, bigamy is occasional in the Blue-gray tanager and Scarlet-rumped tanager. Males of many species feed their mates. The open, cup-shaped nest, high in a tree or low in a shrub, rarely on the ground, is built by both sexes in many species, by the female only, attended by a song-full partner, in others.

The eggs, most often two in the tropical species, are laid early in the morning and incubated by the female alone, even when she is no less colorful than her mate. He frequently escorts her when she returns to her eggs. The incubation period varies with the form and situation of the nest. In low, open, thick-walled nests, such as those of the Scarlet-romped and Crimson-backed tanagers. It is 12 days. In the smaller, usually higher, less con-spacious mossy nests of Silver-throated tanagers and other species of Tangara, it is usually 13 or 14 days. In the covered nests with a side entrance where euphonies hide in crannies, it is prolonged to 15 or 8 days.

The insides of the hatchlings’ mouths are red. Nearly always, their father helps to feed them and to clean the nest, but only their mother broods. Sometimes a young Golden-masked tanager in immature plumage helps its parents to feed a later brood; and in thousand other species of Tangara, as also in the Dusky-faced tanager three or four adults may attend one or two nestlings. The nest-ling period varies in the same way as the incubation period; II or r 2 days in species with low, open nests, 14 or 1 day in those whose nests are usually higher, and r9 to 24 days in the covered nests of euphonies andchlorophonias.

The 25 species of euphonies differ in many ways from other tanagers. Among the smallest tanagers, they are mostly blue-black above and often also on the throat, with yellow on the forehead and sometimes also the crown, and yellow underparts. Although not brilliant songsters, many utter bright, clear notes which make them attractive pets and, unhappily, sometimes lead them to be confined in miserably small cages.

In addition to insects and many kinds of fruits, they eat so many mistletoe berries that they are among the chief disseminators of these abundant parasites on tropical trees. The tiny, nearly down fewer nestlings are fed by regurgitation rather than directly from the bill, as is usual among tanagers. When the parents arrive together with food, the male regularly feeds them first. Spot-crowned euphonies sleep singly in snug pockets in moss, instead of roosting amid foliage like other tanagers.

The chordophone I as of wet mountain forests are essential, as their name implies, greeneuphonias (adorned with blue and yellow), and have quite similar habits. AFS Among the cardinal grosbeaks is familiar birds of suburban gardens in temperate North America and little-known species in tropical rain forests. A favorite is the high-crested, black-throated cardinal, who wears his warm red plumage amid winter’s snow. His mate is much duller. Thanks largely to people who provide seeds in winter, during the last century the cardinal has extended its breeding range from the Ohio Valley to above the Great Lakes in southern Canada. Along the USA-Mexican border.

It coexists with the equally high-crested and thick-billed pyrrhuloxia, more gray than red. The lovely little buntings of the genus Pas-serine live chiefly in the USA and Mexico. One of the most elegant, the Painted bunt-in, has a blue head, and yellow-green mantle. Red rump and underparts, and dark wings and tail. The almost solid-blue male Indigo bunting, which nests in bushy places through much of the eastern half of these, wears a brownish dress much like the females in its winter home in southern Mexico and Central America. Also highly migratory is the Rose-breasted grosbeak, which after nesting in woodland edges and similar habitats in the northeastern USA and southern Canada travels as far as Venezuela and Peru. In winter plumage, males retain enough red on their breasts to distinguish them from the browner females.

Equally migratory is the dickcissel, which sings its name in open fields chiefly in the Mississippi Valley and winters as far south as Venezuela and Trinidad, in vast numbers where rice is grown, sometimes causing heavy losses. Huge numbers roost on sugarcane leaves in neighboring fields. Among the no migratory tropical members of this subfamily are the Blue-black grosbeak and his brown mate, both of whom sing beautifully in rainforests and bushy clearings. They eat maize, whether in the milk or dry, but, not being gregarious, they do only slight damage to the crop.

More closely confined to mid and upper levels of rain forests is the Slate-colored grosbeak, whose nearly uniformly dark bluish-gray plumage contrasts with his heavy, bright red bill. Most cardinal grosbeaks consume many insects and soft fruits as well as weed seeds and grains. More closely allied to the tanagers in their preference for fruits, although least like them in their largely grayish and olive-green plumage, often with a white eye-brow, are the dozen species of saltators, which inhabit semi-open and scrub country through much of tropical America. The widespread Buff -throated salutatory is a frequent attendant at feeders where bananas are offered.

Never having learned to hold the food with a foot while they prepare it for eating, these birds and some of their relatives rest a fruit precariously on a horrid- zonal branch while they bite off pieces. The social habits of cardinal grosbeaks vary greatly. Solitary and pugnacious in the breeding season, lovely male Painted buntings may occasionally wound and even kill their adversaries. At the other extreme areYellow-green grosbeaks, who all seasons travel in loose flocks through rain forests and shady clearings, displaying no territorial exclusiveness. Parents feeding nest-lings are joined by one or more helpers.

The cup-shaped nest is usually built byte females, but male cardinals and Blue- black grosbeaks share the task. Although inmost species only the female incubates, male Rose-breasted and Black-headed grosbeaks take turns on the eggs, often singing while they sit. Male cardinals, Buff-throated salt actors, and Blue-black grosbeaks bring food to their incubating partners.

Nearly always the father helps to feed the young, but male Painted buntings are unreliable attendants, and the polygamous male dickcissel neglects his offspring. AFS In plumage the swallow-tanager resembles tanagers but differs in its broad, flat bill and pointed swallow-like wings. Like tanagers, they eat much fruit; like swallows, they catch many insects in flight.

From warm lowlands where they live when not breed-in, they ascend into the mountains of northern South America to nest at 8 oo-1, 8 rooms (2,600-5,9ooft). The female, with token assistance from an attentive mate. Builds the nest. She alone incubates but both parents feed the nestlings. Highly social birds, Swallow-tanagers engage in mass dies-plays, all simultaneously “curtseying” or bowing deeply down and up, while facing one another or perching close together.


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