Scarlet TanagerPiranga olivacea

adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult male, nonbreeding
Lee Trott/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Rob Curtis/VIREO
adult female
Rolf Nussbaumer/VIREO

Family

Description

Male Scarlet Tanagers seem almost too bright and exotic for northeastern woodlands. These birds are fairly common in oak forests in summer, but they often remain out of sight as they forage in the leafy upper branches. Sometimes in spring, when the Scarlet Tanagers have just arrived from their winter home in South America, a late freeze will force them out in the open as they search for insects on roadsides or in gardens.

Habitat

Forests and shade trees (especially oaks). Breeds mostly in deciduous forest, mainly where oaks are common but also in maple, beech, and other trees; sometimes in mixed pine-oak woods, and occasionally in coniferous woods dominated by pine or hemlock. Winters in tropical rain forest in lowlands just east of the Andes.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, some berries. In summer, feeds mainly on insects, including caterpillars, moths, beetles, wasps, bees, aphids, and many others; also some spiders, snails, worms, millipedes. Also eats wild fruits and berries, including those of mulberry, elder, sumac, and others. Winter diet poorly known.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in tall trees (especially oaks), seeking insects rather deliberately among the foliage. May hover momentarily while taking an item, and sometimes flies out to catch insects in mid-air. Also forages in low shrubs or on the ground, especially in cold weather.

Nesting

In courtship, male hops about on branches below perched female, with wings drooped and tail partly spread, showing off contrast between red back and black wings and tail. Nest site is in tree (usually deciduous), typically 20-30' above ground, sometimes lower or much higher. Placed on horizontal branch, usually well out from the trunk. Nest (built by female) is a shallow open cup of twigs, weeds, grass, lined with fine grass and rootlets. Eggs: 2-5, usually 4. Pale blue-green, with spots of brown or reddish-brown often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female only, about 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings, although the male may do less of the feeding in some cases. Young leave the nest about 9-15 days after hatching, are tended by parents (or by female only) for about 2 more weeks.

Eggs

2-5, usually 4. Pale blue-green, with spots of brown or reddish-brown often concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female only, about 12-14 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings, although the male may do less of the feeding in some cases. Young leave the nest about 9-15 days after hatching, are tended by parents (or by female only) for about 2 more weeks.

Young

Both parents feed the nestlings, although the male may do less of the feeding in some cases. Young leave the nest about 9-15 days after hatching, are tended by parents (or by female only) for about 2 more weeks.

Conservation

Vulnerable to loss of habitat, on both summer and winter ranges. For breeding, seems to require large blocks of forest. Does poorly in smaller forest fragments, often being parasitized by cowbirds.

Range

Most spring migrants enter our area by coming north across Gulf of Mexico. Apparently migrates mostly at night.

Listen

dawn song
chick & chick-bree
song #2
sweet calls
dawn song
song #1
chick-bree & chick

Similar Species

adult male

Hepatic Tanager

In mountain forests of the Southwest, this tanager is fairly common in summer among the pines and oaks. Members of a pair are often found foraging together, moving about rather slowly in the tall pines as they search deliberately for insects in the foliage. The name "Hepatic" is a reference to the color of the male, a more liver-red or duller shade than that of our other red tanagers.

adult male, breeding

Western Tanager

A western counterpart to the Scarlet Tanager, this species occurs in summer farther north than any other tanager -- far up into northwestern Canada. Western Tanagers nest in coniferous forests of the north and the high mountains, but during migration they may show up in any habitat, including grassland and desert; the bright males often draw attention by pausing in suburban yards in late spring.

adult male, Eastern

Summer Tanager

A languid song in southern woods, sounding like a lazy robin, is the voice of the Summer Tanager. Seeing the bird may require some patience, because it usually moves rather slowly in the treetops, often remaining hidden among the leaves. At times, however, it flies out conspicuously to catch flying insects in mid-air. This bird apparently has no fear of stinging insects, often raiding wasp nests and occasionally becoming a minor nuisance around beehives.

adult male

Northern Cardinal

One of our most popular birds, the Cardinal is the official state bird of no fewer than seven eastern states. Abundant in the Southeast, it has been extending its range northward for decades, and it now brightens winter days with its color and its whistled song as far north as southeastern Canada. Feeders stocked with sunflower seeds may have aided its northward spread. West of the Great Plains, the Cardinal is mostly absent, but it is locally common in the desert Southwest.

adult male

Vermilion Flycatcher

Most flycatchers are drab, but the male Vermilion Flycatcher is a brilliant exception. It is usually seen perched fairly low in open areas near water, dipping the tail gently like a phoebe. As if the male's bright colors were not advertisement enough, he also displays by puffing up his feathers and fluttering high in the air while singing repeatedly. Fairly common in parts of the southwest, the Vermilion Flycatcher is also widespread in Central and South America.

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