Skip to main content

Hepatic Tanager Life History



In the United States, Hepatic Tanagers breed in open woodlands of pine, often in mixed pine-oak woodlands, which occur in higher elevations of the Southwest. The forest canopy in optimal breeding habitat is usually partly open, and the understory is also rather open rather than heavily vegetated. Ponderosa pine, pinyon pine, Jeffrey pine, and white fir are key species in some parts of the range. They build their nests in these species and also in maple, mesquite, walnut, willow, and sycamore. During migration, Hepatic Tanagers use similar pine and pine-oak habitats but also deciduous habitats along rivers at lower elevations. In desert environments, migrants often appear at “oases” of verdant habitat, including farmsteads. Most U.S. breeders probably winter in Mexico, where they frequent many types of habitat, including more arid lowland thorn scrub. South of the U.S., Hepatic Tanagers occupy all manner of forested environments, from sea level to mountain forests.

Back to top



Hepatic Tanagers eat mostly insects and spiders. They move slowly through trees and large shrubs in search of berries and insects, which they pluck or glean with the bill. Often, a foraging bird starts low in the tree, hopping along branches in search of hidden insects, then move methodically upward until it reaches the crown. If an insect flushes, the bird sometimes pursues it in flight. This species frequently feeds in pairs or groups. Spiders, caterpillars, moths, butterflies, bees, ants, and grasshoppers are known prey items. Hepatic Tanagers also consume small fruits (including wild cherry and grape), small seeds, flowers, and nectar.

Back to top


Nest Placement


The nest is set in a fork near the end of a tree branch, about 15–50 (average 30) feet above the ground.

Nest Description

The female probably builds the nest with limited help from the male. The nest is a broad, almost flat cup of grasses, twigs, and plant fibers lined with material such as grasses, pine needles, moss, hair, or flowers.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1 brood
Egg Length:0.8-1.1 in (2.06-2.75 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.8 in (1.55-1.93 cm)
Egg Description:Bluish green speckled with brown or purple, especially around the large end.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless.
Back to top


Foliage Gleaner

Male Hepatic Tanagers establish territories in spring and defend them with song, moving from one prominent perch to another. One territory was estimated to cover 3 acres. Males also defend their territories, as do their mates, by scolding, posturing, and chasing intruders. Male and female share incubation and chick-rearing duties, and the male frequently brings food to the female, both during courtship and during incubation. No courtship display is known. After breeding, pairs and their young may remain together and even migrate together, joining other small groups.

Back to top


Low Concern

According to the North American Breeding Bird Survey, Hepatic Tanager populations increased by an estimated 1.3% per year between 1968 and 2015. During the same period, the species’ range also expanded, reaching southern Nevada, southeastern California, and southeastern Colorado in the 1960s. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 7.6 million and rates the species a 7 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Habitat losses caused by drought, fire, overgrazing, and timber extraction have limited or reduced populations of this species in some parts of its range, and deforestation in the wintering range has probably also had a negative impact.

Back to top


Bent, A.C. (1958). Life histories of North American blackbirds, orioles, tanagers, and allies. Bull. US Natl. Mus. 211: i-x, 1-549, 1-37 [unabridged and unaltered republication in 1965, Dover Publications, New York].

Bent, A. C. (1958). Life histories of North American blackbirds, orioles, tanagers, and their allies. United States National Museum Bulletin 211.

Eddleman, William R. (2002). Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2017). Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2017). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2015. Version 2.07.2017. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Back to top

Learn more at Birds of the World