The Tanager Tangle

As you may know, the beautiful birds on our bottles are by William John Swainson FLS, FRS, English ornithologist, malacologist, conchologist, entomologist and artist and those exquisite drawings are from his book; 'The Birds of Mexico & Brazil', published in 1841.   


He was one of Denis's ancestors and named his first colonial home in New Zealand' Hawkshead', after the village of his ancestral home in the English Lake District, and that is the Hawkshead vineyard connection. 

The 19th century was the Victorian era of exploration and discovery into the natural, exotic world. I'm still amazed by the sheer determination of those explorers and naturalists and the progress they made to bring order into the world of flora and fauna.

There were heated arguments between the Darwinists and the Creationists about Darwins ideas on evolutionary biology, especially his theory of evolution. His proposition that all species of life have descended from common ancestors is now widely accepted and a fundamental concept in science today. Different systems of categorising species were also hotly discussed.  

But I'm still astounded at how correct some of the classification work is without using modern molecular techniques of identifying species. But it became quite quickly apparent that some families of species categorised were not correct, as you will see.

Traditionally, the Tanager family contained around 240 species of mostly brightly coloured fruit-eating birds. As more of these birds were studied, it became apparent that they did not all share one common ancestor.
The family of Tanager is Passeriformes (perching or song birds) and the genus Thraupidae. 

Sadly I found some disturbing facts when I started to look a bit closer at the beautiful drawings we had chosen for our White and Rosé wine labels. Many birds are now under environmental stress and endangered through industrial pollution or deforestation, and the very cute 'Short-tailed' Manakin on our Riesling label is feared to be extinct.


The first bird I checked online was the 'Citron headed 'Tanager on our Pinot Gris label and this little 'fella' popped up.

'Citron Headed' Finch Tanager (Sicalis luteocephala), it did not really look like the one on our Pinot Gris label. 

So I searched for a Tanager that looked a bit more like Swainson's drawing and found a striking and beautiful terrestrial finch-like Tanager with its yellow head and distinctive blue belly and contrasting plumage this is the 'Gilt-edged Tanager.'  (Tangara cyanoventris). 


Tanagers are South American medium-sized, fruit-eating birds and often brightly coloured, and most species are endemic to a relatively small area. They live in pairs or in small groups of three to five individuals, and their natural habitats are subtropical and tropical moist low or highland forests.

blue-headed-tanager-hawkshead-blogNow quite curious, I found that the bird on our Pinot Blanc bottle was equally put into the wrong genus. 
Here is the 'Blue-Headed or Capped' Tanager (Sporathraupis cyanocephala) 
Sorry, not really what I expected.
This bird is a pretty, fairly large Tanager, bright olive above and grey below with mostly blue head, lives mostly in the Andes and is not the bird I'm looking for. But this handsome small Tanager below looks much more like the one on Swainson's drawing. It is the 'Red Necked' Tanager (Tangara cyanocephala) and inhabits the canopy of humid forests and woodlands. Mostly green with a blue crown and throat and red cheeks and nape. 

I really enjoyed the research and it open a door into a completely different world, one I don’t know much about and it made an interesting change from the world of Wine.

The 'Black masked' Tanager on our Rosé bottle turned out to be now identified as the 'Masked Crimson Tanager' (Ramphocelus dimidiatus). It is a small attractive Tanager, bright crimson and black with a black mask and silver bill.


It is most commonly found in vegetation around lakes, and it is also sometimes found in nearby forests and along rivers. 

We feature the 'Short Tail' Manikin on our Riesling bottle, chosen for its cuteness and lovely golden yellow plumage. 


Wherever I searched it came up as presumed extinct. But there might be a glimmer of hope in Brazil. I found this information on the Bird Life Internationalwebsite;

Sightings of the Short-TailedManakin or Kinglet Calyptura (Calyptura cristata) in 1996 were on the edge of the Serra dos Órgãos National Park. Some areas of apparently suitable habitat are protected within the park.

Now the online hunt was on and the HAWKSHEAD team developed into serious online “Twitchers”. Bird Fever took hold and look what Renée found !!!  A recent image of the Short TailedManakin! 

This reminded us of our very own Takahe in New Zealand who was thought to be extinct but managed to just survive until being re-discovered in1948 and is now reintroduced into the wild where it is protected and hopefully thrives.

Many species facing the same plight in New Zealand and need our support. 

HAWKSHEAD is very committed to, and works with, the conservation efforts of the New Zealand Nature Fund. Not really a surprise as Denis was the founder of this conservation organisation. Check it out you might like to support its efforts in New Zealand.



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