Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Scarlet Tanager

There is a bird that slips into our forest at night each spring. He comes dressed to impress with a scarlet red head and body and with a black tail and wings. In spite of this bird’s dramatic color, many people may never see it. The male Scarlet Tanager (photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren) heads for the high tops of mature and unbroken hardwood forest, where he stakes out his territory and defends it against all but his mate. His song is a horse, warbling song that some say is similar to a robin’s.

Actually, it’s because of this bird that I now pay more attention to robins. I’ll admit, there have been times when leading a bird walk, I have blurted, “Oh, it’s just a robin” when I see one. Sometimes, robins seem to be everywhere – forest, field, yard and fence row. I learned to recognize their song early in my life and over time I’ve started to tune them out. But Scarlett Tanagers have taught me to pay attention to robins again. The reason is because there are several birds that sound similar to a robin. More recently, when I hear a robin singing from the top of a tall tree, I take time to double check. Robins tend to be found close to the ground. Scarlet Tanagers like the high tree-tops. So, its worth a second look. Often, it’s just a robin, but sometimes it reveals something a little less common.

Another bird song that is often compared to a robin’s is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak (photo by Simon Pierre Barrette). It too comes to our area dressed to impress. The mature males sport black and white over their head, wings, back and tail and a crisp white belly. But what really gets your attention is the rose-colored sash across his chest. It, like the Scarlet Tanager, tends to prefer mid to upper levels of hardwood trees.

The females of both of these birds are drab. The female Scarlet Tanager is olive-green with olive wings. The female grosbeak is streaked in black, brown and white. Like most female birds, this coloration provides good camouflage while sitting on the nest. The males, however, seem to be dressed to impress. They certainly thrill me when I find one of these birds singing from the top of a tree.

James Reddoch, of Albany Township and Boston, leads birding events for the Mahoosuc Land Trust which celebrates 30 years conserving the natural areas of the Mahoosuc Region. Visit Mahoosuc Land Trust at 162 North Road, Bethel, ME or at To learn about upcoming events or to contact James, send your emails to [email protected].

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