Scarlet Tanager

Here's Evie's drawing of a Scarlet Tanager, Piranga olivacea.  This is another bird in our back yard during migration in Evanston that has a cool story to tell.  I really like trees of life--those diagrams that summarize the relationships among species.  The tree of life for songbirds shows an interesting placement for the genus Piranga and its roughly 9 species.  These tanagers are not tanagers at all, but are actually found with cardinals in the family Cardinalidae.  So, some species that have historically been classified as tanagers (like Scarlet Tanager) actually are not, and other species that have been thought to be finches or sparrows (like Darwin's Finches, for example) actually are tanagers.  The tree of life for birds is pretty complicated, and we still have a lot to learn.  Kevin Burns was the scientist, using DNA sequence data, that placed Piranga in the Cardinalid part of the tree of life for birds.  Kevin is now a biologist at San Diego State University and a very good friend of mine.  Kevin, myself, and another friend our ours, Nedra Klein (now deceased), were the ones who published on the placement of Darwin's Finches in the tanager part of the tree of life.

So, next time you hear something about Darwin's Finches, remember they are tanagers and not finches, and the next time you hear Scarlet Tanager, you will have to remember that they are actually more like cardinals than they are tanagers.  I know, confusing, but new science can change even long held beliefs.