The golden-hooded tanager (Tangara larvata) is among the most striking of the neotropical tanagers, a group of more than 200 species, most with extraordinarily colorful plumages. In common with most other tanagers, this species is not a proficient songster and its vocal repertoire comprises a few coarse rattles and a sharp ‘tsit’.
This tanager, sometimes called ‘golden-masked tanager’, is common in the Selva Verde area, where it occurs primarily in the upper forest canopy and in clearings. However, pairs and small flocks often can be seen in gardens and at fruit feeding stations, where bananas seem to be a particular favorite item. They occur regularly on the Selva Verde grounds.
The main diet is fruit and seeds, particularly Ficus and Cecropia, and sometimes insects are eaten as well. In Costa Rica, up to 98 percent of fruiting trees depend on wildlife to disperse their seeds; seed dispersal is achieved through fruit ingestion and defecation. Research shows these tanagers are among the 5 most-important avian seed dispersers in Costa Rica. Collectively, they remove up to 16 percent of the fruit from primary fruit-producing trees.
These tanagers nest mainly from March to September. Pairs construct small cup-like nests, 5-90 feet above the ground, often in banana trees or in the forks of sub-canopy trees. Two heavily-blotched white eggs are incubated by the female for about 14 days. The young fledge in about 18 days. Usually, breeders produce two broods per year.
Golden-hooded tanagers engage in ”cooperative breeding”, a phenomenon in which offspring from previous broods assist their parents in rearing the young of subsequent broods. Research in Costa Rica confirms two or more breeding birds are assisted in brood-rearing by one or more ‘helpers-at-the-nest’. Some are ‘primary’ helpers that are offspring from previous broods of the breeding pair; others are ’secondary’ helpers that are unrelated to the breeding pair, usually non-breeding males. All helpers deliver food to nestlings.
Cooperative breeding is fairly common in neotropical birds and is a good example of ‘group parenting’ strategies. Researcher at La Selva shows that such a strategy significantly boosts nestling survival and growth rates. But, so far, preliminary genetic testing has failed to confirm whether or not proficiency in helping behavior is an inherited trait. Nonetheless, offspring from socially dominant pairs tend to be better helpers-at-the-nest, compared with offspring from subordinate pairs.
This tanager species often associates with other fruit-eating sparrow-sized birds in mixed foraging flocks. At Selva Verde, such flocks typically comprise other tanger species, as well as euphonias and honeycreepers that move across the canopy in loose harmonious groups.
- Robert Alison, PhD
Robert is an avian ecologist and ornithologist based in Victoria, British
Columbia. He is a frequent contributor to Field Notes.