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Scarlet Tanager

Piranga olivacea ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Male Scarlet Tanagers are among the most blindingly gorgeous birds in an eastern forest in summer, with blood-red bodies set off by jet-black wings and tail. They’re also one of the most frustratingly hard to find as they stay high in the forest canopy singing rich, burry songs. The yellowish-green, dark-winged females can be even harder to spot until you key in on this bird’s chick-burr call note. In fall, males trade red feathers for yellow-green and the birds take off for northern South America.

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Songs

The male Scarlet Tanager sings a burry series of 4–5 chirruping phrases with a hurried quality. Many people liken it to the sound of a robin with a sore throat. He sings from an exposed perch to defend his territory, getting into singing wars with his neighbors. Females sing a similar song but more softly and with fewer syllables. Mates often sing together while foraging or while the female is gathering nesting material.

Calls

Both male and female Scarlet Tanagers give an energetic and very distinctive chick-burr. They also give a descending screech call when attacking intruders, a soft call that rises in pitch during courtship and nesting, a twittering call when feeding or flying together, and a nasal whistle when arriving at the nest with food.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Scarlet Tanagers visit many kinds of berry plants, including blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, juneberries, serviceberries, mulberries, strawberries, and chokeberries.

Find This Bird

During spring migration and summer, listen for the raspy, robin-like song of the male Scarlet Tanager in mature deciduous forest in the East. They like to stay high in the trees, but if you are patient and keep looking up, you’ll probably see a flash of brilliant red as the male changes song perches or goes after an insect. During late summer and fall migration, Scarlet Tanagers often join mixed flocks of other songbirds to feed. If you can learn this bird’s distinctive chick-burr call note, it’s very useful for finding both males and females.

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eBird Occurrence Maps, Scarlet Tanager