Living Bird Magazine
Scarlet TanagerPiranga olivacea
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Cardinalidae
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.More ID Info
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.
- Piranga Escarlata (Spanish)
- Piranga écarlate (French)
Scarlet Tanagers visit many kinds of berry plants, including blackberries, raspberries, huckleberries, juneberries, serviceberries, mulberries, strawberries, and chokeberries.
- Cool Facts
- On the wintering grounds in South America the Scarlet Tanager joins mixed species foraging flocks with flycatchers, antbirds, woodcreepers, and resident tropical tanagers.
- The female Scarlet Tanager sings a song similar to the male's, but softer, shorter, and less harsh. She sings in answer to the male's song and while she is gathering nesting material.
- The response of the Scarlet Tanager to habitat fragmentation varies from place to place. Results from the Cornell Lab’s Project Tanager indicate that in the heart of the species’ range in the Northeast, it can be found in small forest patches. In the Midwest, similar sized forest patches tend to have no tanagers.
- Scarlet Tanagers often play host to eggs of the Brown-headed Cowbird, particularly where the forest habitat has been fragmented. When a pair of tanagers notices a female cowbird approaching, they aggressively drive her away. If they don’t notice, the cowbird gets rid of a tanager egg and replaces it with one of her own. The tanagers apparently can’t tell the difference, either before or after the egg hatches, and they raise the imposter along with the rest of their brood.
- The oldest Scarlet Tanager on record was a male, and at least 11 years, 11 months old. He was banded in Pennsylvania in 1990, and found in Texas in 2001.