The Masked Crimson Tanager

The masked crimson tanager “Ramphocelus nigrogularis” is a species of bird belong to the family Thraupidae. The stunning masked crimson tanager normally found in Brazil, Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru. Its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical swamps and subtropical or tropical moist shrubland. The masked crimson tanager is found across Amazonia and is abundant. It prefers to dwell near bodies of water such as lakes, swamps or rivers, generally at altitudes below 2000 ft. The masked crimson tanager makes a high-pitched single note variously transcribed "tink", and a simple melody often sung at dawn. Masked crimson tanagers may also feed on the nectar of flowers as part of their diet. They feed on flowers of Erythrina fusca plants without damaging them, while simultaneously contacting the anthers of the flowers with their heads, thus making them effective pollinators.

Moreover, the bird name is derived from the Latin words niger "black", and gularis "throated". It is one of nine species of brightly colored tanagers of the genus Ramphocelus. The species measuring 18 to 19 cm in length, while the adult male has a black face, wings, mantle, belly and tail, and is a bright red elsewhere in its plumage, while the bill has a silver sheen. Though the female resembles with male but has a brownish belly and duller plumage overall, while the juvenile is duller still, and resembles the vermilion tanager but the latter lives at higher altitudes. The birds prefer to move in troops of 10 to 12 birds, can form mixed species flocks with the silver-beaked tanager and it is frugivorous (fruit-eating). 

The masked crimson tanager has been speculated to engage in reverse sexual dominance behavior alike to their congener pair, the silver-beaked tanager. The birds belong to the passerine bird order; exhibit this behavior same to that of their cousin. Though, there is no observable evidence to backing the hypothesis that the masked crimson tanager are among the rare and unexplained phenomenon of reverse sexual dominance. Therefore, under normal situations, passerine species of birds demonstrate a default hierarchy of dominance wherein larger, heavier birds tend to dominate the smaller, lighter birds and males incline to dominate females. The masked crimson tanagers select to inhabit sites close to or around oxbow lakes, a common geographical feature of their native Amazon biome.

They demonstrate aggression while defending the more productive areas around the lakes, causing the silver-beaked tanager to occupy the riparian forest. The species are competitively superior and dominate most interspecies interactions with their cousin. The species breeds in between the dry and wet seasons of the seasonal tropics that they occupy. This species of tanager contributes in cooperative breeding, which includes the communal care and protection of the offspring. In neotropical forests, the masked crimson tanager congregates in mixed flocks much like those seen in flycatchers and vireos. The degree to which the masked crimson tanager forms mixed flocks correlates with the relative extent to which broad-leafed canopy make up the composition of the neotropical forest.
Like most tanagers, masked crimson tanagers are mostly frugivorous, supplementing their fruit diets with small insects such as flying termites. Their insectivorous tendency is driven by the periodic cycle of the breeding of termites, which yield winged males and females when sexually active. These termites are richer in nutrients than normal wood termites and therefore it may become more ecologically sound for the masked crimson tanager to feed on these insects to supplement their existing diets. This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion. Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend, hence species is evaluated as Least Concern.

Yellow Cardinal

Jeremy Black, an Alabama wedding and wildlife photographer, spent almost five hours in a friend’s back yard in the optimism of capturing an image of what he called “the most captivating cardinal in Alabaster, Alabama.” The northern cardinal that Black ended up photographing was not the usual deep red of males but dazzlingly yellow. It could easily claim to be the most captivating bird in the nation. The yellow cardinal “Gubernatrix cristata” is a species of bird in the family Thraupidae. It is the only member of its genus, Gubernatrix. The term "yellow cardinal" or "yellow morph" may also describe a northern cardinal which is yellow because it lacks the usual enzyme which converts yellow pigments in food to the red pigments in the feathers of most of its species. Sightings are rare.

Black’s photo, which was shared on the Facebook page of the Naturalist’s Notebook, promptly went viral.  As soon as it landed, I was star-struck, took my breath away a little bit. Initially I thought it was a species of yellow bird she had never seen before. Then he realized that the creature, with its black mask and crested head, looked just like a cardinal just one of a different color. This coloration is not unique, but it is aberrant, according to a 2003 research paper on what at the time was said to be the first-ever reported yellow northern cardinal in the United States. Researchers who studied its feathers concluded that the bird had a genetic mutation that impaired the metabolic processes that normally make red feathers out of the carotenoid-rich yellow and orange foods in a male cardinal’s diet.

It’s a one in a million mutation, had never seen a live yellow cardinal in 40 years of birdwatching. Rare though they are, yellow northern cardinals seem a bit more common with the advent of digital cameras and social media. A pair was spotted in Kentucky in 2011. It is estimated that in any given year there are two or three yellow cardinals at backyard feeding stations somewhere in the U.S. or Canada. There are probably a million bird feeding stations in that area so very roughly; yellow cardinals are a one in a million mutation.

The Distinctive Pin-Tailed Manakin

The stunning and highly distinctive pin-tailed manakin (Ilicura militaris) is a species of bird in the family Pipridae. It is the only member of the monotypic genus Ilicura. It is endemic to eastern Brazil, where its natural habitats are subtropical or tropical moist lowland forest and subtropical or tropical moist montane forest. The Pin-tailed Manakin is not rare but it is nonetheless highly prized by birdwatchers, particularly as its strangely quiet vocalizations can render it unobtrusive, making encounters much less frequent than with other manakins that occur in the same region. Moreover, Male manakins are well-known for their elaborate group courtship displays, which habitually take place on gathering grounds called "leks." Thus, Female manakins visit these leks to pick a mate from the group of displaying males. The male Pin-tailed Manakins "dance" alone, making whirring and snapping sounds with particular wing and tail feathers and flashing their bright red rump feathers during short, rapid flights.

Males have flashy plumage, while females are a dull greenish color. These small, short-tailed birds tend to be solitary but can occur within mixed-species flocks. The male Pin-tailed Manakin is one of prettiest of manakins, and even the female is hard to confuse given that it shares the male’s “unusual” head shape and ‘pin-tail’ central rectrices. The pin tailed manakin prefers humid forest, woodlots and mature second growth, perhaps most often in valleys. The species systematic relationships have only recently been elucidated, although its uniqueness has long been recognized by taxonomists. Though, some facets of the Pin-tailed Manakin’s life history, in particular its breeding biology and diet, are still relatively inadequately known. This species has a very large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion hence species is evaluated as Least Concern.