a web page by Don Roberson
  • 11 species on Caribbean islands
  • DR personal total: 4 species (36%), 2 photo'd

An 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).

The 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.
The 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.

Bibliographic note: 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.

Literature cited:

Barker, 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.

Isler, M. L., and P. R. Isler. 1987. The Tanagers: Natural History, Distribution, and Identification. Smithsonian Instit. Press, Washington, D.C.

Keith, A.R., J.W. Wiley, S.C. Latta, and J.A. Ottenwalder. 2003. The Birds of Hispaniola. Nat. Hist. Mus., Tring, U.K.




  page created 16-22 Mar 2014  
all text & photos © Don Roberson, except as otherwise indicated; all rights reserved