Birdwatchers could be seeing red these days.
That’s because spring migration has brought a pair of bright red birds back to central Illinois.
“Brilliant colored scarlet tanagers have begun to arrive here in Springfield from their wintering grounds in South America,” said Dennis Oehmke, who has been photographing central Illinois birdlife for many years.
“Today at Washington Park, I was lucky enough to see and photograph one at eye level,” he said. “Typically, they remain high in the tree tops where they are difficult to see, much less photograph.”
Male scarlet tanagers are bright reddish orange and have jet-black wings and tails. Females are yellow and olive green.
Male scarlet tanager. Photo by Dennis Oehmke.
A related bird, the summer tanager, is North America’s only all-red bird. Even male cardinals have a little bit of black on their faces.
“The summer tanager has also recently arrived from Central America,” Oehmke said. “I have seen several individuals at both Washington Park and Oak Ridge Cemetery.”
Female summer tanagers are yellowish in color.
Summer tanager male by Dennis Oehmke.
Oehmke said summer tanagers are particularly interesting because they feed regularly on bees and wasps, carefully working the insect around in their bill to remove the stinger.
For those wanting to see migrating birds, they can be found as close as a neighborhood park.
Islands of habitat, especially those places with mature oak trees like city parks and cemeteries, are good places to see migratory birds, especially early in the morning.
Many migrating birds, like warblers and vireos, are here for a short time as they make their way to the northern United States and Canada to breed. With such a short window of time, it is easy to miss the songbird migration.
Also, many of the birds are small and stay in the treetops where they feast on caterpillars that hatch just as trees begin to leaf out.
Oehmke said he hopes people take time out to see nature’s long-distance travelers.
“In my mind it is good opportunity to make the public more aware of their surroundings,” he said. “I learned from Dave Bohlen (assistant curator of zoology at the Illinois State Museum) years ago that you will not appreciate what you cannot see.”
The good news is both tanagers potentially can stay to nest, if the appropriate woodland habitat can be found.
The summer tanager’s breeding range includes the southern half of Illinois, while the scarlet tanager’s breeding range includes Illinois exception the extreme southern portion of the state.
For more information, visit the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Website: http://www.allaboutbirds.org
For information about the scarlet tanager, including a recording of its voice: http://tinyurl.com/scartan
You can find the summer tanager at: http://tinyurl.com/sumtanager
Chris Young can be reached at (217) 788-1528. Follow him at twitter.com/ChrisYoungPSO.