a web page by Don Roberson
  • 4 species in the Neotropics
  • DR personal total: 4 species (100%), 1 photo'd

Here (above & below) are photos of Olive-green Tanager, an endemic to coastal southeastern Brazil. A nice enough bird but hardly one of the many spectacular tanagers of the Neotropics. So why is it headlining a Family page?

The last decade or so has seen many surprises in the molecular evidence of New World passerines, and especially the "nine-primaried" passerines near the end of any checklist. Birds that were once considered "tanagers" — like Scarlet, Summer and Western Tanagers — are, in fact, related to cardinals and grosbeaks. Likewise, a whole lot of birds once considered to be "finches" of some sort — the Galapagos finches, to name just one set — are, in fact, tanagers; Burns et al. 2014; see my Tanager page for an overview). Several of these studies (e.g., Yuri & Mindell 2002, Kilicka et al. 2007) found that certain genera of "tanagers" were neither fish nor fowl (i.e., neither tanagers nor grosbeaks) but a separate lineage. The most recent evidence is in Barker et al. (2013), the those authors propose a separate Family for four species of these uncertain taxa. The family Mitrospingidae includes three genera: Mitrospingus, Lamprospiza, and Orthogonys. Olive-green Tanager is the only species in genus Orthogonys.

Olive-green Tanager is mostly in the understory. In contrast, Red-billed Pied Tanager prefers the canopy of lowland forest (left, in an Arthur Grosset photo taken from a canopy tower). There it forages among mixed species flocks, primarily in search of fruit. It ranges through the Amazon Basin lowlands.

The Family name is derived from genus Mitrospingus, assigned to two species: Dusky-faced Tanager M. cassinii and Olive-backed Tanager M. oleagineus. Dusky-faced Tanager is a big-billed species of humid lowland forests from Costa Rica south to Ecuador. Olive-backed Tanager is a similar-looking bird of mostly subtropical montane forests in northern South America (such as tepuis in Venezuela, Guyana, n. Brazil). Both are primarily understory birds and occur in flocks. Dusky-faced was a dominant species in subtropical forest along the old Buenaventura Road in Colombia back in July 1975 (up to 80/day when multiple flocks encountered). In a recent visit to southeastern Brazil, Olive-green Tanager was found daily in understory flocks (up to 25/day). The plumage of the Mitrospingus tanagers is along the lines of Olive-green Tanager, so Red-billed Pied is the single "odd" member of the family in plumage and behavior. It, too, occurs in flocks, but usually just 6-10. These could be extended family groups.


Photos: The Olive-green Tanager Orthogonys chloricterus was at Intervales NP, Brazil in July 2010. Arthur Grosset photographed the Red-billed Pied Tanager Lamprospiza melanoleuca at Caxiuanã, Pará, Brazil, in July 2006 . Photo © Don Roberson & © Arthur Grosset, and used with permission; all rights reserved.

Arthur Grosset has many spectacular photos of Neotropical birds on his website.

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) and the applicable Handbook of the Birds of the World chapter.

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.

Burns, K.J., A.J. Schultz, P.O. Title, N.A. Mason, F.K. Barker, J. Klicka, S.M. Lanyon, and I.J. Lovette. 2014. Phylogenetics and diversification of tanagers (Passeriformes: Thraupidae), the largest radiation of Neotropical songbirds. Molec. Phylo. Evol. 75: 41-77.

Klicka, J., K. Burns, and G.M. Spellman. 2007. Defining a monophyletic Cardinalini: A molecular perspective. Molec. Phylog. Evol. 45: 1014 1032.

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

Yuri, T., and D.P. Mindell. 2002. Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Fringillidae, "New World nine-primaried oscines" (Aves: Passeriformes). Molec. Phylog. Evol. 23: 229-243.




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