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Tanager Toilette

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sometimes I’m lucky enough to be watching the Bird Spa when a tanager or oriole stops by to wash the grime of a long migration from its brilliant feathers. This tanager was singing lustily in the birch just outside my studio window. I’d been gardening all morning, and had just come in the studio to check my e-mail. My camera was still outside on the picnic table in the front yard, naturally. I dithered in agony. If I tried to sneak out the door to get my camera, I might spook the tanager. But in my experience, this is usually a once-per-spring event.

I finally decided to go for it. I walked out, hugging the side yard, head down, as if the last thing on my mind was the beautiful bird bathing in my Spa. I grabbed the camera off the picnic table and walked back, head down. The tanager never budged. Once back inside, I focused and snapped, capturing his beauty to share. My studio is like a big ol’ blind, and birds readily give up their portraits and secrets to me as I lurk in its friendly confines.
How lucky we are to have such a bird in the treetops, singing its hurried, burry song, the robin with a sore throat.

This is why I’m happy to scrub, rinse and refill the Spa every four days without fail. Tanagers like it sparkling clean.

He hadn't been bathing long when a female bluebird, weary from brooding her young, came down and body-slammed him out of the water. Nice. Mrs. B. You can bathe any time. Why must you be so obnoxious?
Oh, I'm not bad. But this garish woodland bird needs to understand that this is my bath, and there are rules about its use. Mainly, I use it first and always. What's he done to contribute to society? Sing? Fly 4,000 miles to get to his territory? Donate sperm here and there? I am a working mother. I've got babies to feed. I bathe first.
The tanager repaired to the poolside birch, where he sorted through his glowing plumage only a yard from the bossy bluebird.Must dip into the oil gland to waterproof my feathers.Ahh. I don't expect to see another tanager in the bath until fall. Who knows what goes on while I'm traveling? Best not to think of the things unseen, unappreciated; best to be happy with what I do manage to capture.


Lovely photos - birdbath ones are always my favorite! Did you make that birdbath or purchase it? I would love to get something similiar.

That tanager is simply spectacular! How lucky. And the bossy bluebird shot is great.

How and with what do you clean your birdbath?

Trix: I use a scrub brush and Comet to clean it.

The Sept. 07 archives are full of Bird Spa posts if you wish to whet your appetite. Here's one that contains a link to a place online where you can buy it.

the link being

You will love it and so will your birds. Good luck and let me know what all you attract!

If for some reason that doesn't work, the mfr. contact is (Quiba Corp.)

Tell Barbara I sent you.

I have longed to have a tanager come to our bath or feeders when they migrate through. I occasionally see them in the woods, but never up close and personal.

Great shots.

Oh, Julie, I'm learning, with time, that birds communicate so well with good old body language. The social attitudes they have are clearly shown and you caught them perfectly! Spring makes them rise, doesn't it?

Reminding me to scrub out my birdbath tomorrow night! I saw something bright orange and black this morning for about 5 seconds. I was excited thinking it was a Baltimore Oriole. Now I'm thinking maybe it was a tanager? Do they eat caterpillars? He/she was looking interested in the abandoned tent caterpillar nests in my weedy black cherry tree.

Julie--what wonderful shots. So glad you risked it, and sneaked out to retrieve camera.
I also enjoy seeing the bubbling bird bath--I remember last year's posts on the subject

I love the bird commentary. I often wonder what they are saying to each other as I watch them at my birdbaths and feeders. Beautiful tanager ~ I wish I'd get one here. Guess I'll have to be satisfied with Baltimore Orioles. Who am I kidding? I'm thrilled with the frequent visits they've given in the past week or so ;-)

What a glorious sight to behold!


Both orioles and tanagers will eat tent caterpillars. If it was orange, it was much more likely to be a Baltimore oriole. They're in the height of migration right now. The oriole's black head is the key.

That was me. This is what comes of having two monkeys playing on your laptop at all times.

Lovely photos! You must have rude Bluebirds, mine would never slam another bird out of the bird bath. Oh, yeah, that reminds me. I haven't put mine up yet.

~Kathi, who is suddenly able to comment again (aren't you sorry I'm back?)

What a gorgeous tanager, julie. Your patience was rewarded. I have been waiting for our western tanager to show up. It's usually a one-day appearance in our upper pond. That's it. The warblers have arrived, and that's been the harbinger. So I wait. Your photos encourage me not to give up.

Weary is the right word for the way that bluebird looks. While we don't get anything as exciting as your tanagers, the birds are enjoying our new birdbath, outfitted with a little battery-operated "wiggler" to keep the water moving -- Kelly's white throated sparrow returned this morning! Perhaps if we really invested in building up the sperm garden we would be a more attractive location...

Oh, the beauty of it. I would never be able to get a photograph. The bird would be gone before I thought about the camera.

STILL haven't seen a scarlet tanager, but this is the next best thing. Thanks!

Fortuitously, the same day you posted this, I looked out the window while doing dishes and there were 3 western tanagers in my birdbath, 2 males, 1 female. Spectacular!
Next morning I had a bunch of my 9th graders (who normally only notice rock stars and sports heroes) come find me and say they had been watching these birds in the courtyard , they were supposed to be doing health. One of them described perfect field marks (the kid is a budding artist). They had 4 adult male western tanagers right outside the window! I showed them a picture in my Peterson, all said that was them. I missed them, but they asked for a photo to hang on the bulletin board.
BOTB would have been thrilled to see this jaded bunch of tough teenagers that excited about seeing birds. But then breeding plumage tanagers really are rock stars.
Caroline in the Black Hills

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