CARIBBEAN TANAGERS Phaenicophilidae
- 11 species on Caribbean islands
- DR personal total: 4 species (36%), 2 photo'd
extensive analysis of the relationships of nine-primaried passerines
(tanagers, New World warblers, sparrows, buntings, etc.) by Barker et
al. (2013) found firm evidence of evolutionary sets of "tanagers" that
arose on islands in the Caribbean. Indeed, those authors even went so
far as to propose four (!) new families from this radiation
[Spindalidae, Nesospingidae, Phaenicophilidae, Calyptophilidae]. Yet,
the same evidence can be used to recognize this Caribbean-centered
evolution and still combine then within a single new family, in which
case the senior name is the Phaenicophilidae. Barker et al. (2013) did
not suggest English names for their families, but together they might
be called the Caribbean tanagers.
Barker et al.
(2013) did say that among the Caribbean lineages "the only truly
unambiguous relationship is the unity of the Hispaniolan endemics Phaenicophilus, Xenoligea, and Microligea." Genus Phaenicophilus holds the two palm-tanagers — Black-crowned Palm-Tanager P. palmarum (left in a fine photo by Murray Lord) and Gray-crowned Palm-Tanager P. poliocephalus.
Black-crowned Palm-Tanager is one of the most ubiquitous of
Hispaniola’s endemics, present in just about any wooded habitat in the
Dominican Republic and the eastern half of Haiti. Gray-crowned
Palm-Tanager is Haiti's lone avian endemic. It is still relatively
common in the forest of the Tiburan peninsula where it occurs from
sea-level to the highest forested peaks at 2400m. It is said to be
especially common in the karst limestone rainforests of the Macaya
Biosphere Reserve, a loosely protected national park high up in the
Massif de la Hotte (Keith et al. 2003).
Despite the English names we use, these are not
tanager. Yet most of them have been called "tanagers" in the past, and
so we can continue to do so. We just need to recognize that there are
many birds called "tanagers" that are now classified in other families
(to use just one example, Scarlet, Summer, and Western Tanagers,
familiar to North American birders, are actually in the
cardinal/grosbeak family Cardinalidae).
Another part of this new Family is the genus Spindalis, a set of four similar species — once called "Stripe-headed Tanagers" — Jamaican S. nigricephala, Hispaniolan S. dominicensis, Puerto Rican S. portoricensis, and Western S. zena. The latter is an occasional vagrant to Florida. Somewhat closely related to them is Puerto Rican Tanager (right), a reasonably common species in mixed-species flocks in the humid Puerto
Rican highlands. It rather looks and acts like a female spindalis.
The Spindalis set, the Puerto Rican Tanager (Nesospingus), and the palm-tanagers ( (genus Phaenicophilus) all diverged about 10-12 million years ago and have been on independent paths since then; Barker et al. (2013).
Chat-Tanagers of Hispaniola also diverged in that same time period, but
their placement in the phylogeny is less certain. In the "species tree"
published by Barker et al. (2013) they were a sister group to the other
Caribbean lineages (although with "weak support"), and for the moment I
place them together. Barker et al. (2013) preferred to emphasis the
stronger support for an even more distant relationship in a
"concatenation" of gene regions and analytical approaches, but
acknowledged that the evidence was still conflicting. There are two
chat-tanagers — Eastern Chat-Tanager Calyptophilus frugivorus (left, another nice Murray Lord photo) and Western Chat-Tanager C. tertius— that are undergrowth skulkers on Hispaniola.
final two members of this Family are traditionally called "warblers,"
but they are not closely related to the Parulidae. These are
Green-tailed Warbler Microligea palustris and White-winged Warbler Xenoligea montana. Green-tailed Warbler — better called Green-tailed Ground-Tanager
(below left in a photo by Murray Lord) — joins mixed species flocks in
a variety of woodlands (thornscrub to broadleaf), primarily in the
understory on montane woodlands in the Dominican Republic (its range
quite limited in Haiti). White-winged Warbler — which might be called Hispaniola Highland Tanager
(below right, another Murray Lord shot) —occurs in both Hispaniola
nations, but its range is limited to humid montane broadleaf and wet
karst limestone forests (Keith et al. 2003). It is rather little-known;
the first nest was only discovered in 2004.
Photos: Murray Lord photographed the Black-crowned Palm-Tanager Phaenicophilus palmarum, Eastern Chat-Tanager Calyptophilus frugivorus, Green-tailed Warbler (Ground-Tanager) Microligea palustris and White-winged Warbler (Hispaniola Highland Tanager) Xenoligea montana during a visit to the Dominican Republic between 26-28 Apr 2009. The Puerto Rican Tanager Nesospingus speculiferus was at Bosque Nacional El Yunque, Puerto Rico, in Mar 2000. Photos © Don Roberson except those attributed to © Murray Lord, and used with permission ; all rights reserved.
There is no "family book" per se. The species in this set have been
previously covered in books on tanagers, such as Islet & Isler
(1987), or the applicable chapters on "warblers" or "tanagers" in the Handbook of the Birds of the World series.
F.K., K.J. Burns, J. Klicka, S.M. Lanyon, and I.J. Lovette. 2013. Going
to extremes: contrasting rates of diversification in a recent radiation
of New World passerine birds. Syst. Biol. 62: 298-320.
M. L., and P. R. Isler. 1987. The Tanagers: Natural History,
Distribution, and Identification. Smithsonian Instit. Press,
Keith, A.R., J.W. Wiley, S.C. Latta, and J.A. Ottenwalder. 2003. The Birds of Hispaniola. Nat. Hist. Mus., Tring, U.K.