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Blue-Gray Tanager - Ever Present in the Tropical Rainforest
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.
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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