This is a western tanager, looking for it’s next meal. Of course, that pretty much describes every moment of a bird’s life, but still. This tanager has spied some seeds, and is about ready to fly in for a much closer investigation.
For a long time, the western tanager was classified as a tanager, which of course makes perfect sense. Except, as scientists have studied the bird, they have come to realize that it is more closely related to the cardinal, of all species, and have moved its classification accordingly. Cardinals are bright red, while the western tanager sports beautiful yellow plumage, but it is similar enough. Beyond that, it’s vocalizations strongly resemble the cardinal’s, so now it is a cardinal.
Either way, however, this is a beautiful bird. This fine fellow color’s are bright, meaning he is thinking about breeding. Since I caught up with him in southern Arizona in the spring, this makes sense.
Interestingly, the red in its head is from a pigment, rhodoxanthin, which is not produced by the bird itself. Instead, it must be acquired, probably from insects, which in turn acquire it from plants. Nature is amazing!