Scarlet Tanager

Piranga olivacea
Scarlet Tanager specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (7 inches) songbird, the male Scarlet Tanager is most easily identified by its bright red body, black wings, and black tail. Female Scarlet Tanagers are green above and dull yellow below with dark wings. Males of this species may be separated from male Summer Tanagers (Piranga rubra) by that species’ red wings and tail and from male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) by that species’ black face and conspicuous crest, while females may be separated from female Summer Tanagers by that species’ paler back and darker breast. The Scarlet Tanager breeds across much of the northeastern United States and southern Canada south to Alabama and west to Nebraska. In winter, this species migrates to Panama and northern South America. Migrating Scarlet Tanagers may be seen in areas of the southeastern U.S. where this species does not breed. Scarlet Tanagers breed in a number of mature forest types, preferring larger areas of unbroken forest to smaller, more fragmented habitats. In winter, this species is found in a variety of dense humid tropical forests. Scarlet Tanagers primarily eat insects and spiders during the breeding season, but may eat fruits, berries, and earthworms at other times of the year or when insects are scarce. In appropriate habitat, Scarlet Tanagers may be seen foraging for insects on leaves and branches in the tree canopy, in undergrowth, or, more rarely, directly on the ground. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a series of whistled notes recalling that of the American Robin. Scarlet Tanagers are most active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Common summer resident in deciduous forests from late April to early October; breeds from the end of May to July. The male is scarlet and black in breeding season, olive and black in fall and winter; the female, olive throughout the year.

Specimen Information

The male is upper left; the female is lower right.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17152 Piranga olivacea (Scarlet Tanager)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC17153 Piranga olivacea (Scarlet Tanager)

Sound from xeno-canto. XC31108 Piranga olivacea (Scarlet Tanager)