Tanagers are found in virtually all wooded tropical habitats, on the shaded streets of major South American cities, in the streaming rainforests and at the cold treeline of the high Andes. This is a guide to the 242 highly colourful species of tanager found in the Americas. The 32 colour plates show 551 tanager plumages, illustrating every species, as well as 263 distribution maps.
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The tanagers of the Western Hemisphere, write ornithologists Morton and Phyllis Isler, belong to a rather fluid category of birds known as the "nine-primaried oscines," songbirds whose tiny outermost wing primary is concealed. That category includes many kinds of birds--cardinals, buntings, and warblers among them--and, the Islers suggest, the old taxonomies simply will not do. Even so, for the time being tanagers enjoy separate status as a monophyletic group, and one interesting enough to warrant not only birdwatchers' attention, but also the authors' compilation of this thoroughgoing reference book. It takes in some 240 fructivorous and insectivorous species distributed widely in space, from Alaska to southern Chile, offering detailed notes on their habitat, behavior, range, breeding habits, and vocalizations. Some tanager species, the authors explain, are intensely localized; Orchesticus abeillei, for example, inhabits only a few montane forests in the vicinity of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Others are far more wide-ranging, among them the northern hepatic tanager, Piranga flava, which is found from Central America to as far north as Illinois. Admirers of these beautiful birds will find much of value in the Islers' pages, and they'll want to have this well-illustrated guidebook in their backpacks or bookshelves. --Gregory McNamee
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