The paradise tanager (Tangara chilensis), known locally as siete colores (seven colors), is one of our most asked about rainforest birds. We currently have three of these little beauties in our Rainforest exhibit and you can often spot them flocking together and chirping away.
Paradise tanagers are found from the foothills of the Andes Mountains throughout most of the Amazon Basin with four subspecies: T. c. chlorocorys, T. c. paradisea, T. c. tchlorocorys and T. c. coelicolor. There is no obvious sexual dimorphism, meaning, differences between males and females. Aside from DNA testing, sex can be determined by observing behavior; males tend to call more often than females.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2009, paradise tanagers were evaluated as “least concern” in terms of future extinction. Although their population size is unknown, they have been decribed as ‘common’ throughout their large geographic range.
These birds are the ultimate eye candy and have a colorful personality to match. Our paradise tanagers are usually one of the first species to appear when biologists feed out nectar every morning. Just like in the wild, our tanagers’ diet is also composed of fresh fruits and small insects here at the Academy. Above is a picture of our paradise tanagers at a nectar feeding station with two female red-legged honeycreepers (Cyanerpes cyaneus) and one female red-shouldered tanager (Tachyphonus phoenicius). Below is a paradise tanager eating a piece of fruit at one of five feedings stations in the Rainforest exhibit:
In addition to being one of the first species to drink and feed every morning, our paradise tanagers are also always front and center for morning bathing. As our horticulturalists spray down tree leaves to remove debris, our paradise tanagers perch themselves in the middle of the spritz and began ruffling their feathers and preening just like their wild counterparts would do in heavy mist and rain. They are so dedicated to their bathing, they seem to only stop when the hose is shut off. Here are two paradise tanagers getting squeaky clean:
Because tropical rainforests are located near the equator, this type of habitat does not experience as many seasonal fluctuations that other parts of the world do from the tilt of the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the Sun. In general, the tropics experience two seasons: the Dry season and the Wet season. Studies have shown that the greatest number of birds nesting in the tropics occurs between April and June which are the first few months of the wet season. Our paradise tanagers, however, have been nesting throughout Summer and into Fall. This could be because of consistent food availability which aids egg production. Here is a picture of one of our paradise tanagers trying to attract a mate:
Paradise tanagers tend to favor nesting in the canopy of tropical rainforests. In addition to being out-of-reach for most predators, it is also believed that the humidity at the canopy level help their eggs develop properly. Once a nesting spot is chosen, our paradise tanagers will spend the majority of their day searching for nesting material.
Although there is plenty of naturalistic nesting material in our Rainforest Exhibit such as moss, twigs and leaves, sometimes our tanagers get a little carried away. Anything left behind in our exhibit by humans is fair game for nesting material. This includes paper towels…
Check out one of our paradise tanagers sitting in her well-hidden nest:
Paradise tanagers lay 2-3 eggs at once with an incubation period of 13-14 days. At the Academy, we have not yet observed our paradise tanagers incubate more than two eggs at a time.
Although we have many eye-catching birds in our Rainforest Exhibit, the paradise tanagers are by far the most colorful. We are thankful that the species is not yet threatened by extinction and are lucky to have a few of them here!