Blue-gray Tanager

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Is the Blue-gray Tanager right for you?

Species group:

Other common names: Blue Tanager; White-winged Blue Tanager (for subspecies with white wing patches)

Scientific name: Thraupis episcopus

The basics:
The Blue-gray Tanager is an extremely abundant and widespread New World fruit-eating tanager that is a friendly, visible visitor to wild bird stations in Mexico, Central, and South America that feature fruit. Outside of Latin America, it is probably not well-known as a pet, but it's occasionally available to advanced hobbyists and experts who can provide plenty of space and a specialized, fruit-centered diet.

There are around 13 subspecies, with differences in the intensity of the blue plumage. Some subspecies also offer minor differences in the wing plumage, such as violet or white patches. The sexes are alike, and if one of your birds is more vivid than the other, you cannot assume you have a male and a female. You could have different subspecies.

These tanagers are agreeable birds who frequently join mixed-species flocks of other tanagers and related birds in the wild.

A good-looking blue tanager.

30 - 40 grams (1 - 1.4 oz.)

Average size:
15 - 16 centimeters (6 in.)

10 - 12 years

Behavior / temperament:
In addition to their highly desired blue color, the confidence of the Blue-gray Tanager around its human caretakers can make it an entertaining aviary bird. Given proper food and housing, it will breed reliably in captivity.

Blue-gray Tanagers are best kept in large walk-in mixed-species planted aviaries. The color simply doesn't show to best advantage unless they have access to natural sunlight. If you want more “blue” and less “gray,” then good lighting is a requirement. The large aviary also gives these confident birds the chance to get to know you. In general, it would be a rare tanager that learned to fly to your hand, but sometimes a daring Blue-gray Tanager will learn to do so. In any case, they are willing to get close. If you must provide a cage or indoor flight, it should be at least 36” in length, 24” in width, and 18” in height with a 1/2” bar spacing. While they may be sometimes kept in smaller cages in their native lands, this practice really can't be condoned if you want to maintain their health and gain their confidence. Full spectrum lighting would be a plus during the seasons when they're held indoors.

As far as the diet is concerned, the Blue-gray Tanager is an honorary soft-billed bird, with a strong emphasis on a fruit-based diet supplemented with insects. The menu will be both expensive and create rather messy droppings. Start with a chopped mixed fruit salad and a good low-iron small softbill pellet. A variety of live insects, not just mealworms, should be offered every day, and you may want to consider constructing a homemade insect trap, especially to stimulate breeding and encourage them to raise their young. Additional treats include hard-boiled egg and a good quality commercial lory nectar. Do not ever be tempted to offer honey, as it may contain bacteria that is poisonous to birds.

Written by Elaine Radford

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