Birds are masters at hiding their nests, and sometimes it is only when we see fledglings that we are pleased to know they have reproduced in the rainforest. When keeping an up-to-date list of animals in the collection at the DWA, it can become quite time-consuming and confusing when dealing with birds! Mammals are more confined and most are larger in size; fish and aquatic invertebrates are in water that is contained within various structures; reptiles and amphibians are likewise more restrained. Many of the birds are also in exhibits, but it is those “free-fliers” that move about the rainforest that can be challenging. Their roosts, feeding sites and favorite places to hang out are known by their keepers, often giving us our best clues for bird-watching.
Passeriformes is the largest order of birds. With over half of all birds being in this order, it also becomes the most diverse group, particularly in the tropics. This order includes many of the birds that are sometimes referred to as “perching” and “song” birds. As in the wild, Passeriformes is also the largest order of birds at the DWA. Larger birds in this group are the more obvious ones, such as birds-of-paradise and cock-of-the-rocks, which are in exhibits. This order also includes small to medium-sized birds, such as the tanagers. Tanagers, with rather short, compact bodies, provide an unparalleled array of colorful plumage and patterns. With more than 20 species, the difficulty is in determining the number of specimens in each. This is when the old adage “A picture is worth a thousand words” so aptly applies!
As in the wild, mixed species of tanagers at the DWA can often be seen together as they forage or perch in the trees, and despite their spectacular patterns and colors, they camouflage quite well in the rainforest. Many of the common names given to tanagers aid in their identification – Speckled (Tangara guttata), Beryl-spangled (Tangara nigroviridis), Flame-faced (Tangara parzudakii), Blue-necked (Tangara cyanicollis), Silver-throated (Tangara icterocephala), Saffron-crowned (Tangara xanthocepala), Golden-hooded (Tangara larvata) and Masked (Tangara nigrocincta), Opal-rumped (Tangara velia), Burnished-buff (Tangara cayana) and Golden (Tangara arthus). It is perhaps the Paradise (Tangara chilensis) that is the most colorful and recognizable tanager. It is the tanager most prized by bird lovers and its seven neon-like, bold colors are worth the watch.
The often iridescent plumage of tanagers spans the color spectrum and with their equally flamboyant patterns, tanagers keep the rainforest at the DWA very much alive!