Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)

Scarlet Tanager

Scarlet Tanager

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Thraupidae | [latin] Piranga olivacea | [UK] Scarlet Tanager | [FR] Piranga ecarlate | [DE] Scharlachtangare | [ES] Quitrique Rojo | [NL] Zwartvleugeltangare


Monotypic species

Physical charateristics

Slightly smaller than Summer Tanager, with proportionately slighter and 10-15% shorter bill and 5-10% shorter tail. In adult male, bright red (breeding) or bright green-yellow (non-breeding) head and body contrast with wholly black wings and tail; adult female and immature have greenish-olive upperparts merging with pale yellow underparts but mainly black or dusky wings and tail stand out; bright white under wing-coverts in all plumages.

Listen to the sound of Scarlet Tanager

[audio: Tanager.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 27 cm wingspan max.: 30 cm
size min.: 15 cm size max.: 16 cm
incubation min.: 13 days incubation max.: 14 days
fledging min.: 9 days fledging max.: 14 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 6  


North America : East


Breeds in temperate and warm temperate Nearctic in mature woodlands and groups of tall shade trees, even in suburbs. Prefers oak woods, especially in well-watered country, but will also occupy mixed woods, coppice, and orchards.


Scarlet tanagers form monogamous pairs for breeding each season. No studies of banded birds have confirmed that pair bonds last beyond the breeding season. Males use a silent courtship display in which they fly to exposed branches below a female and extend their wings and neck to expose their scarlet back. Females are apparently attracted to the male’s scarlet color as well as their posture and movements.
Breeding occurs from May to August. Females build shallow, saucer-shaped nests in a week or less from twigs, rootlets, coarse grass, and weed stems, and line them with fine grasses and pine needles. They are placed anywhere from 2-25 meter above ground. Four to 5, usually 4, pale blue-green eggs with brown speckles are incubated for 13-14 days. Though they are brooded by females only, both parents bring food to the nest. The nest is kept clean and the droppings are swallowed or carried away in the bill. The young are able to leave the nest about 9-15 days after hatching.

Feeding habits

Scarlet tanagers eat insects while foraging in treetops, in shrubs or on the ground. Preferred foods include aphids, nut weevils, wood borers, leaf beatles, cicadas, scale insects, dragonflies, ants, termites, caterpillars of gypsy moths, parasitic wasps, bees, mulberries, June-berries, huckleberries and other wild fruits.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Breeds in eastern North America from south-east Manitoba and North Dakota east to New Brunswick and Maine, south to eastern Kansas, central Arkansas, southern Appalachians, western North Carolina, and Maryland.
Accidental. Iceland, Britain, Ireland.
Scarlet Tanager status Least Concern


Long-distance migrant, breeding in temperate eastern North America and wintering within c. 10 degrees of equator. Winters mainly in north-west South America, from western Colombia south to north-west Bolivia, rarely in Panama. Inconspicuous on migration, remaining in tree-tops except when driven to ground by scarcity of insects in cold weather. Probably most birds cross central Gulf of Mexico in both spring and autumn. Few birds overshoot to north; but occurs annually in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland in both seasons. Rare autumn vagrant to Atlantic seaboard of west Palearctic. In Britain and Ireland, 7 records up to 1995, especially south-west England and southern Ireland, from late September to 3rd week of October.

Distribution map

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