Verification of Unusual Sight Record
For Utah

Rec. # 2011-37

Common name:

Scarlet Tanager

Scientific name: Piranga olivacea
Date: 30 May 2011
Time: about 8:00 am
Length of time observed: 10 minutes total
Number: 1
Age: 1st year?
Sex: Male
Location: Provo Airport Dike (west side). Along the moat north of the Control Tower.
County: Utah
Elevation: 4500 feet
Distance to bird: 40 feet - 100 yards
Optical equipment: 8x42 Binoculars
Weather: Stormy, raining, windy, cold.
Light Conditions: Very overcast but enough light to see the bird well.
Description:        Size of bird: Same size as the many Western Tanagers in the area.
(Description:)       Basic Shape: Same shape as the many Western Tanagers in the area.
(Description:)  Overall Pattern: Red body. Black wings and tail.
(Description:)            Bill Type: Tanager shaped - Longish, stout and pointy. Same shape and size as the many Western Tanagers in the area.
Field Marks and
Identifying Characteristics:
In shape and size the bird looked identical to all the Western Tanagers that were all over the place that morning. The wings and tail were dark black with NO wing-bars, spots or contrasting edges or tips. The top side of the bird's body was bright red from face to rump, including on the back between the wings. The intensity of the red faded on the lower chest and belly showing patchy orangish on the chest, then a few greenish feathers on the belly.
(see photos)
Song or call & method of delivery: None
Behavior: KC Childs spotted it fly in. We were parked on the side of the road and the bird flew in from behind us and landed in the phragmites in a moat on the east side of the road. We watched for a few minutes as it moved south perch by perch along the moat, then we lost sight of it and were not able to relocate it. It had just been raining and hailing a few minutes before the sighting and was very windy at the time of the sighting. There was a huge Western Tanager fall-out that morning, with hundreds of Western Tanagers moving south along the weeds at the edge of the moat all along the west side of the dike loop. Many were staying low on or near the ground in the sheltered side of the dike road, out of the wind.
Habitat: A moat full of phragmites. Open fields around airport runways. A line of trees along the shore of Utah Lake.
Similar species and how
were they eliminated:
Western Tanager was eliminated by red color on the back and rump and the lack of wing-bars. A male Western Tanager would have black on the back between the wings and would have a yellow rump. A female Western Tanager would not show any red.

A Summer Tanager or Hepatic Tanager would not have dark black wings and tail that contrast sharply with the body color.
A Flame-colored Tanager would have wing-bars and spots in the wings and tail.

I have listed some other species below that may have similar colors as Scarlet Tanager but they are all much different in body and/or bill shape.

A Black-headed Grosbeak would have a shorter, thicker bill, Black on the head and back and white in the wings and tail.

All the oriole species that have orange plumage and black wings and tail would have some white in the wings and at least a little black in the face and black on the back between the wings. Orioles are shaped different appearing longer with a longer tail.

A Northern Cardinal would not have dark black wings and tail that contrast sharply with the body color. The bill would be much shorter.

A Pine Grosbeak would have a much shorter bill, white wing-bars and some gray on the body.

A White-winged Crossbill would have a much different bill shape and would show white in the wings.

A Red Crossbill would have a much different bill shape and the wings and tail are not as dark black as this bird was.

An male Orange Bishop shows black on the head and belly, wings are not as dark as on the bird we saw. Plus different bill and body shape.

A Scarlet Tanager is the only bird that I know of that has all red head, back and rump with all Black wings and tail.... well maybe there are some but they don't occur in Utah. An I'iwi would have a relatively longer, down curved bill and wouldn't be seen outside of the state of Hawaii.
Previous experience with
this & similar species:
I have seen a few Scarlet Tanagers in Eastern North America. I have seen thousands of Western Tanagers and a few Summer Tanagers. I have never seen a Hepatic Tanager.
References consulted: The Sibley Guide to Birds.
Description from: From memory
Observer: Eric Huish
Observer's address: 850 E 100 N Pleasant Grove, UT
Observer's e-mail address:
Other observers who independently identified this bird: KC Childs was with me and he first spotted it. I don't think anyone else saw it.
Date prepared: 09/07/11
Additional material: Photos
Additional_Comments: Photos have been cropped. It was very windy and hard to get a good photo with my little camera. The bird was moving a lot and disappeared shortly after I grabbed the camera.