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Why Do Male & Female Scarlet Tanagers Sing?

scarlet tanagerSpring is a great time to see many of Bernheim’s colorful birds like the Scarlet Tanager. Male Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful bright red birds that are very difficult to see, since they spend most of their time in the forest canopy singing. Females are even harder to find, because they are a pale yellow and will spend most of their time on the nest.

Scarlet Tanagers are sensitive to habitat fragmentation and prefer large forest blocks, like Bernheim. They are a migratory species of bird and will spend summer in this region and migrate south in the fall to South America. Right now is the perfect time to look for the Scarlet Tanager since both the male and female are singing.

Yes, the females sing too. Contrary to common belief, studies have shown that in about 70% of bird species, both male and females sing. This was discovered by Karan Odom in her study of the orioles in Maryland and in Puerto Rico. In North America, it is usually the males that sing and are brightly colored, while in the tropics both sexes sing. The reason this might be is that many birds in North America are only here for a short time during breeding season and then migrate south for the winter. While in the tropics, they never leave their breeding grounds.

During the breeding season, the northern species are in a hurry. They have to secure their territory, find a mate, and raise young before the fall. Thus, the males must quickly attract the females with their bright colors and song. In the tropics, however, the competition is over food, not mates. Both sexes are competing for the resources, so both males and females are brightly colored and sing to show their prowess to any competitor.

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