Blue is an uncommon color in the avian world, and even more so among those birds that are kept in captivity. When blue does occur, it is usually quite startling – Blue Jays, for example, rarely fail to draw attention; in fact, a co-worker reported that a pair had long been the star attraction of the Moscow Zoo’s Bird House. Today I’d like to introduce one of the few “all blue” birds available to hobbyists in the USA, the Blue Gray Tanager, Thraupis episcopus.
Blue Gray Tanagers are classified in the family Thraupidae, members of which range throughout North, Central and South America. Many, such as the Scarlet Tanager (please see photo), are brilliantly colored. US hobbyists may not keep native species, but the Blue Gray is legal, and captive-bred specimens are often easy to find.
Blue Gray Tanagers range from southern Mexico to northern Bolivia and Brazil. Introduced populations are established in Lima, Peru and (of course!), southern Florida. An extra-bright blue race, endemic to Tobago, has been given subspecies status.
They favor open habitats bordered by brushy cover or trees – forest edges, farms and parks. Confiding to the point of being bold, these 6-inch-long beauties adapt readily to human presence. Well known and much loved throughout their range, they are often given local nicknames – i.e. “Blue Jean” on Trinidad and Tobago.
Captives: My Experience
A fearless personality suits the Blue Gray Tanager well to captive life. Those I cared for in a large mixed-species aviary were always first on the scene at feeding time, sometimes alighting on the food pan before I had put it down. In time, 2 individuals fed from my hand; rarely have I kept such active, alert birds.
If given a dry shelter, Blue Grays can easily tolerate temperatures of 60 F or so; some reportedly keep them outdoors in much colder weather.
Blue Grays feed largely upon insects and fruit. A diet packed with a variety of both is essential if you are to succeed with this species; please do not attempt to keep them unless you are able to meet their needs. I’ve always maintained insect traps, such as the Zoo Med Bug Napper, to help round out the diets of the tanagers under my care.
These little fellows fare well on a mixed fruit salad (papaya, banana, berries, orange, kiwi, pear, peaches and many others) coated with insectivorous bird food (please write in for sources), Softbill Select and Egg Food. Hard boiled egg and some nectar should be offered regularly.
Live katydids, crickets, spiders, sow bugs, beetles, flies, moths, mealworms, waxworms and other invertebrates must be provided on a daily basis. Please see my articles on Collecting Insects and Canned Invertebrates for information and ideas.
Outdoor housing, at least during the warmer months, is almost a pre-requisite for successful breeding. A cup-shaped nest is built in heavy cover for the 2-3 eggs. The chicks hatch in 14 days and fledging occurs on day 14-20. Insects are essential if the young are to survive.
Blue Gray Tanagers at the National Aquarium
This Video illustrates why these tanagers are so highly desired.
Thraupis episcopus image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by The Lilac Breasted Roller
Blue Grey Tanager image referenced from wikipedia and originally posted by Daniel Demczuk