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Blue-Gray Tanager - Ever Present in the Tropical Rainforest

Updated on December 18, 2011
Blue-Gray Tanager of the West (Thraupis episcopus quaesita))
Blue-Gray Tanager of the West (Thraupis episcopus quaesita)) | Source

When walking through the tropical rainforests of South America there are certain birds that appear to dominate the area. The Blue-Gray Tanager is one of those ubiquitous species that appears at every turn of the trail. Though not as brightly colored as many of the other tanagers, it has a beauty that can be appreciated and savored by all observers.


The Blue-gray Tanager can be observed in various habitats from várzea forest (freshwater swamps in the Amazon basin) to urban areas and gardens. Although normally detected below 1,500 m (5,000 ft) they can be found locally, in smaller numbers, up to 2,500 m (8,200 ft). Their general range extends from eastern Mexico south to western Peru and northwest Bolivia and over into Amazonian Brazil.

Within Ecuador this handsome species can be seen on both slopes and on occasion in the central valley. The Blue-gray Tanager is more numerous in the west ranging up into the lower subtropics. The birds seen around Quito, Salcedo and Cuenca are most likely escaped caged birds from a time when capturing and displaying of animals was not covered by law. Now, however, it is illegal under the new constitution to possess such wildlife.

There are three races of the Blue-gray Tanager that reside in Ecuador: the quaesita that inhabits the western slopes and the coelestis and caerulea on the east. The caerulea is limited to the Zamora-Chinchipe region. The western and eastern races vary in coloration that assists in their identification.

Blue-gray Tanager, Eastern Race (Thraupis episcopus caerulea)
Blue-gray Tanager, Eastern Race (Thraupis episcopus caerulea) | Source


The Blue-gray Tanager is an average sized bird of 16.5 cm (6 ½ in.). Both sexes are similar in coloration, primarily a pale and grayish blue. This hue will appear darker on the back, blending to a much lighter tint on the chest and underbelly. The wing-coverts on the western race (pictured above) are a bright blue while those of the eastern slopes (photo at right) are white. Within the Marañon drainage there is a mix of birds with white coverts and those with the blue.

In spite of its unassuming appearance it is unlikely to become confused with other species. In extremely low light, however, it could resemble the dull gray plumage of the Palm Tanager.

Habits and Habitats

The Blue-gray Tanager can be observed in a variety of habitats. Mainly below 1,500 m (5,000 ft) they are known to appear in the lower subtropical areas of the tropical rainforest, possibly to avoid the deforestation at lower altitudes. Found near forest borders of primary and secondary woodland, they will also occasion into clearings and gardens of urban regions. They are more common on the western slopes but still appear in sizable numbers in the east.

The Blue-gray Tanager is a social bird, often traveling in groups and frequently seen in mixed flocks with other tanagers and passerines. They are extremely active, flitting from branch to branch in search of insects or fruits to satisfy their appetites. They can often be seen sallying upward to capture flying prey.

Locating the Blue-gray Tanager in Ecuador

Due to its wide range, the Blue-gray Tanager can be found in a number of bird sanctuaries and parks. Some of these include:

In the west: Bellavista Forest Reserve, Jorupe Forest Reserve, Macara Vicinity, Manglares-Churute, Milpe Bird Sanctuary, Mindo Valley, Papallacta Pass, Rio Canande Reserve, Rio Palenque Reserve, Rio Silanche Bird Sanctuary, Tandayapa Valley, Tinalandia, Utuana Reserve, Yellow House Trails and Yunguilla Reserve

In the east: Archidona Road, Copa Linga Lodge, Cordillera del Condor, El Para Reserve, Guacamayos Ridge, Napo River Basin, Napo River Basin, Podocarpus-Bombuscaro & Vicinity, San Isidro Reserve, Tapichalaca Reserve, and Zumba & Maranon Valley


The Blue-gray Tanager is a handsome bird found in various areas and habitats of the tropical rainforest. It has a distinctive beauty that enhances the woodland and brings a sense of peace to the fortunate observer. When traveling throughout the Ecuadorian foothills, keep a sharp eye open for this charming inhabitant.


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    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 5 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Blond Logic. They are so abundant here that people start ignoring them in favor of the more colorful tanagers. I think they are a beautiful bird and I always enjoy taking photos of them.

    • Blond Logic profile image

      Mary Wickison 5 years ago from Brazil

      Hi ColibriPhoto

      We have these here in our garden in Brazil. When we arrived they were nesting in a tree that hung over the balcony. They are a lovely bird, one of my favorites here.

    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 5 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thanks Moonlake. There are some beautiful birds up in Wisconsin (and Arkansas), but your cold weather drives them down here for long periods of time. We have a great diversity here, something that most Ecuadorians don't appreciate.

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 5 years ago from America

      Beautiful bird. Enjoyed your hub. We love our birds here their all pretty but not as pretty as this.

    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 5 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Thank you Stephanie. Scarlet Tanagers are beautiful birds and a delight to see anytime. You will remember the sighting for a long time.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 5 years ago from New Jersey

      Another lovely and beautiful hub ColibriPhoto. I can't say that we have had a tanager visit us. But while at my sister's house a little over 10 miles away, we saw a bird that was yellow that made it look fake. We knew it wasn't an escape parakeet because it was bigger than that. But it had a more exotic look. When we got home, I immediately looked in our bird books and realized we saw a summer/Scarlet tanager.

    • ColibriPhoto profile image

      ColibriPhoto 5 years ago from Quito, Ecuador

      Tanagers are common to north and south america. They are some of the most brightly colored birds in the world. Thanks for the feedback.

    • kids-toy-box profile image

      kids-toy-box 5 years ago

      I never knew Tanagers existed until now. I love the striking colors on this beautiful bird.