Yesterday in Schenley Park I saw a scarlet tanager with blotches on his belly. He was starting to turn green.
Scarlet tanagers (Piranga olivacea) molt twice a year. In January through March they molt into breeding or “alternate” plumage while on their wintering grounds in South America. The females don’t change color but the males turn from green to scarlet. Young males often retain a bit of green (click here to see).
When the breeding season is over, they molt back to basic plumage in July through September. The males look blotchy at first but when they’re done they’re bright olive green with black wings as shown below. By then they’re on their way to South America.
(photo at top in August, Tim Lenz; photo below in Oct, Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren)
I was lucky to see yesterday’s scarlet tanager because he hardly made a sound. Tanagers have stopped singing now that breeding is over. This one was singing very softly.
p.s. Did you know that female scarlet tanagers sing? According to All About Birds: “The female Scarlet Tanager sings a song similar to the male’s, but softer, shorter, and less harsh. She sings in answer to the male’s song and while she is gathering nesting material.”