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Overview

Brief Summary

Piranga olivacea

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.

Threat Status: Least Concern

  • Mowbray, Thomas B. 1999. Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea), The Birds of North America Online (A. Poole, Ed.). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Retrieved from the Birds of North America Online: http://bna.birds.cornell.edu/bna/species/479
  • Peterson, Roger Tory. Birds of Eastern and Central North America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1980. Print.
  • Piranga olivacea. Xeno-canto. Xeno-canto Foundation, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea). The Internet Bird Collection. Lynx Edicions, n.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
  • eBird Range Map - Scarlet Tanager. eBird. Cornell Lab of Ornithology, N.d. Web. 20 July 2012. .
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Distribution

Scarlet tanagers breed in eastern North America and winter in northern and western South America, from Panama in the north as far south as Bolivia. The breeding range is from southern Canada as far west as Manitoba and east to the Maritime provinces and south through the western Carolinas, northern Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and much of Arkansas. The breeding range corresponds with the extent of the eastern deciduous forest biome.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations

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National Distribution

Canada

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

Type of Residency: Breeding

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Global Range: (>2,500,000 square km (greater than 1,000,000 square miles)) Breeding range extends from North Dakota, eastern Saskatchewan (probably), and southern Manitoba eastward across southern Canada and the northern United States to New Brunswick and central Maine, and south to central Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, northern Alabama, northern Georgia, northwestern South Carolina, western North Carolina, Virginia, and Maryland (AOU 1998). During the northern winter, the range extends from Panama (rarely) and Colombia south, east of the Andes, through eastern Ecuador and Peru and western Brazil to northwestern Bolivia (Stiles and Skutch 1989, AOU 1998); apparently mainly in upper Amazonia (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Recently recorded in Amazonia of Brazil (Stotz et al. 1992). Scarlet tanagers migrate primarily through the south-central and southeastern United States, Middle America, and the West Indies.

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Geographic Range

Scarlet tanagers breed in eastern North America and winter in northern and western South America, from Panama in the north as far south as Bolivia. The breeding range is from southern Canada as far west as Manitoba and east to the Maritime provinces and south through the western Carolinas, northern Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, and much of Arkansas. The breeding range corresponds with the extent of the eastern deciduous forest biome.

Biogeographic Regions: nearctic (Native ); neotropical (Native )

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Range

E Canada and US; winters mainly upper Amazon basin.
  • Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/

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Physical Description

Morphology

Scarlet tanagers are 16 to 17 cm long with a wingspan of 25 to 29 cm.  They weigh from 23.5 to 33 grams during the breeding season and from 32 to 38 grams during migration. Mature males in breeding season are bright red with black wings and tails, in the winter they resemble females except for their black wings and tail. Females and immature birds are dull, olive green above and straw-yellow below with dark wings and tail.

Females, immature individuals, and males in winter plumage are sometimes confused with female and immature summer tanagers (Piranga rubra) or western tanagers (Piranga ludoviciana), with which they sometimes co-occur. Some details of plumage color help to distinguish these species, as do their distinctive calls. Scarlet tanagers use a hoarse "chip-churr" call, while western tanagers use a soft "pri-tic" call and summer tanagers use a staccato "pit-i-tuck" call.

Range mass: 23.5 to 38 g.

Range length: 16 to 17 cm.

Range wingspan: 25 to 29 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male more colorful

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Physical Description

Scarlet tanagers are 16 to 17 cm long with a wingspan of 25 to 29 cm.  They weigh from 23.5 to 33 grams during the summer breeding season and from 32 to 38 grams during migration. Mature males in breeding season are bright red with black wings and tails, in the winter they resemble females except for their black wings and tail. Females and immature birds are dull, olive green above and straw-yellow below with dark wings and tail.

Range mass: 23.5 to 38 g.

Range length: 16 to 17 cm.

Range wingspan: 25 to 29 cm.

Other Physical Features: endothermic ; homoiothermic; bilateral symmetry

Sexual Dimorphism: male more colorful

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Size

Length: 20 cm

Weight: 29 grams

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Diagnostic Description

No other North American bird has the male's color combination (Terres 1980). Female scarlet and summer (P. RUBRA) tanagers are distinguished by the scarlet's yellow-green plumage compared to the summer's orange-yellow. The female scarlet also has a smaller, darker bill (Terres 1980). Where ranges of the summer and scarlet tanagers overlap, positive identification of similar nest and eggs should not be made until a bird is seen (Harrison 1975).

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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Systems
  • Terrestrial
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Scarlet tanagers are found mainly in mature deciduous forests or mixed deciduous forests with hemlock (Tsuga) and pine (Pinus). They can also be found in younger deciduous forests and sometimes in heavily wooded suburban areas. In the Smoky Mountains they are found from 425 to 1525 meters of elevation, in other mountainous parts of their range they are found at all elevations in suitable habitat. Habitat use in their winter range in South America is poorly known, but they are generally found in mid-elevation evergreen forests, from 100 and 1,300 meters on the eastern slope of the Andes.

Range elevation: 1525 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest

Other Habitat Features: suburban

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Comments: Scarlet tanagers breed in deciduous forest and mature deciduous woodland, including deciduous and mixed swamp and floodplain forests and rich moist upland forests, often where oaks predominate (Bushman and Therres 1988), sometimes in wooded parks, orchards, and large shade trees of suburbs (Isler and Isler 1987, Senesac 1993), less often in mixed deciduous-coniferous forest (Hamel et al. 1982, Hamel 1992). They are most common in areas with a relatively closed canopy, a dense understory with a high diversity of shrubs, and scanty ground cover, and are able to breed successfully in relatively small patches of forest (Bushman and Therres 1988). Breeding occurs in various forest stages but is most frequent in mature woods (according to some sources, prefers pole stands). In New England, nesting occurs mainly in sawtimber hardwoods. Nests are placed in trees (commonly oaks), usually well out on limbs, 2-23 meters above ground. Typical nest site characteristics: 1) the nest is placed in a leaf cluster, or with at least several leaves shading the nest, 2) the nest is placed on a nearly horizontal tree branch, 3) there is a clear unobstructed view of the ground from the nest, and 4) there are flyways from adjacent trees to the nest (Senesac 1993).

During the northern winter, scarlet tanagers inhabit forest canopies and edges, including tall second growth (Isler and Isler 1987). Migrants may occur in more open habitats, such as woodlands, parks, and gardens, as well as forests (Isler and Isler 1987).

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Scarlet tanagers are found mainly in mature deciduous forests or mixed deciduous forests with Tsuga and Pinus. They can also be found in younger deciduous forests and sometimes in heavily wooded suburban areas. Habitat use in their winter range in South America is poorly known, but they are generally found in moist forests in mountainous areas there.

Range elevation: 1525 (high) m.

Habitat Regions: temperate ; tropical ; terrestrial

Terrestrial Biomes: forest ; rainforest

Other Habitat Features: suburban

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Migration

Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.

Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).

Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.

This species arrives in most of the southern United States in April, in the northern states and southern Canada by early to late May. South-bound migration begins in late August, peaks in September and (in the southern United States) early October.

Migrates through Middle America and in smaller number in West Indies. Rare spring and fall migrant in West Indies (Raffaele 1983). Fairly regular passage migrant in Netherlands Antilles (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Migration in Costa Rica late September-early November and late March-early May (Stiles and Skutch 1989). Arrives in Colombia by October, departs by early May (Hilty and Brown 1986).

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Trophic Strategy

Scarlet tanagers eat insects while foraging in treetops, in shrubs or on the ground. Preferred foods include aphids, nut weevils, wood borers, leaf beatles, cicadas, scale insects, dragonflies, ants, termites, caterpillars of gypsy moths, parasitic wasps, bees, mulberries, June-berries, huckleberries and other wild fruits.

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: fruit

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Comments: Eats insects and other invertebrates, and various fruits; diet includes moths, bees, caterpillars, larvae of gall insects, wood- and bark-boring beetles, click and leaf-eating beetles, crane flies, and all stages of gypsy moths, except the eggs. Nestlings are fed insects and fruit. Forages primarily at mid-canopy (6-18 m off the ground). Occasionally descends to the ground or ascends to the topmost tree branches. Searches for insects on leaves, twigs, and branches, examining the substrate in a leisurely fashion. Often picks at dense leaf clusters at the outer tips of limbs (Isler and Isler 1987). Also chases aerial insects (Bushman and Therres 1988). May feed on ground-dwelling prey (e.g., grasshoppers, ground beetles, earthworms) during periods of persistent rainfall and/or low temperatures when flying insects are inactive (Zumeta and Holmes 1978). These authors suggested that severe cases of inclement weather may contribute to a significant several-year reduction in local scarlet tanager breeding populations.

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Food Habits

Animal Foods: insects; terrestrial non-insect arthropods

Plant Foods: fruit

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Associations

Adult scarlet tanagers are eaten by birds of prey, including eastern screech owls, long-eared owls, short-eared owls and merlins. Eggs and nestling predators include blue jays, grackles, American crows, squirrels, chipmunks, and snakes.

Scarlet tanagers mob most predators, diving and swooping around them while calling at them. However, scarlet tanagers respond to American crows and merlins by becoming quiet and watchful, apparently in an attempt to be inconspicuous.

Known Predators:

  • eastern screech owls (Otus asio)
  • long-eared owls (Asio otus)
  • short-eared owls (Asio flammeus)
  • merlins (Falco columbarius)
  • blue jays (Cyanocitta cristata)
  • grackles (Quiscalus)
  • American crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos)
  • tree squirrels (Sciurus)
  • chipmunks (Tamias)
  • snakes (Serpentes)

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Predation

Adult scarlet tanagers are eaten by birds of prey, including Otus asio, Asio otus, Asio flammeus and Falco columbarius. Eggs and nestlings are eaten by Cyanocitta cristata, Quiscalus, Corvus brachyrhynchos, Sciuridae, Tamias, and Serpentes.

When most predators come near, scarlet tanagers mob them. They dive and swoop at the predator while calling at them. However, when American crows and merlins come near, scarlet tanagers act differently. Instead of attacking crows and merlins, scarlet tanagers hide from them.

Known Predators:

  • eastern screech owls (Otus_asio)
  • long-eared owls (Asio_otus)
  • short-eared owls (Asio_flammeus)
  • merlins (Falco_columbarius)
  • blue jays (Cyanocitta_cristata)
  • grackles (Quiscalus)
  • American crows (Corvus_brachyrhynchos)
  • tree squirrels (Sciurus)
  • chipmunks (Tamias)
  • snakes (Serpentes)

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Population Biology

Number of Occurrences

Note: For many non-migratory species, occurrences are roughly equivalent to populations.

Estimated Number of Occurrences: 81 to >300

Comments: Numerous occurrences.

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Global Abundance

10,000 to >1,000,000 individuals

Comments: Far more than 10,000 individuals.

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General Ecology

In migration, this usually solitary tanager sometimes is found in loosely associated groups and may join mixed-species flocks. Summer home ranges often relatively large for a forest passerine; territory size varies a great deal, reported sizes 0.8 to 12.5 hectares (summarized in Mowbray 1999).

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

Perception Channels: visual ; tactile ; acoustic ; chemical

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Communication and Perception

Communication Channels: visual ; acoustic

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Life Expectancy

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
121 months.

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Lifespan/Longevity

Average lifespan

Status: wild:
121 months.

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 10.5 years
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Reproduction

Scarlet tanagers form monogamous pairs for breeding each season. No studies of banded birds have confirmed that pair bonds last beyond the breeding season. Males use a silent courtship display in which they fly to exposed branches below a female and extend their wings and neck to expose their scarlet back. Females are apparently attracted to the male's scarlet color as well as their posture and movements.

Mating System: monogamous

Breeding occurs from May to August. Females build shallow, saucer-shaped nests in a week or less from twigs, rootlets, coarse grass, and weed stems, and line them with fine grasses and pine needles. They are placed anywhere from 4-75 feet above ground. Four to 5, usually 4, pale blue-green eggs with brown speckles are incubated for 13-14 days. Though they are brooded by females only, both parents bring food to the nest. The nest is kept clean and the droppings are swallowed or carried away in the bill. The young are able to leave the nest about 9-15 days after hatching.

Key Reproductive Features: iteroparous ; seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate); sexual ; oviparous

Average time to hatching: 13 days.

Average eggs per season: 4.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

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Males arrive in breeding areas in April and May, usually several days before the female, and establish a territory by singing almost continuously from conspicuous perches high in the canopy of mature trees. Territorial boundaries are not rigid and males frequently dispute, especially when the female is present (Isler and Isler 1987, Prescott 1965). Once paired, the male abandons the high perch. The female chooses the nest site and builds the nest alone (Isler and Isler 1987). The nest is built in 2-7 days.

In the mid-Atlantic states, nesting extends from early May to early August, with a peak from late May to mid-July (Bushman and Therres 1988). Eggs are laid mostly in May-June. Clutch size is 3-5 (usually 4). Incubation, by female, lasts 12-14 days. Young are tended by both parents, leave nest at 9-15 days, usually 14-15 days after hatching. The nestlings are brooded by the female for about 3 days after they hatch. During this time both parents feed the young. Fledged young are attended by adult for up to 2 weeks after fledging. Nests sometimes contain young into August. It is thought that only one brood is raised per season (Senesac 1993, Isler and Isler 1987, Prescott 1965).

During the breeding season, females sing a song that is similar to that of the males, and both males and females also produce the "chic-burr" call.

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Scarlet tanagers form mated pairs each year for breeding. Males use a silent courtship display in which they fly to exposed branches below a female and extend their wings and neck to show off their bright red back.

Mating System: monogamous

Key Reproductive Features: seasonal breeding ; gonochoric/gonochoristic/dioecious (sexes separate)

Average time to hatching: 13 days.

Average eggs per season: 4.

Parental Investment: altricial ; pre-fertilization (Provisioning, Protecting: Female); pre-hatching/birth (Provisioning: Female, Protecting: Male, Female); pre-weaning/fledging (Provisioning: Male, Female, Protecting: Male, Female)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Piranga olivacea

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


There are 3 barcode sequences available from BOLD and GenBank.

Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.

See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNAAGGTACTGCCCTAAGCCTNCTCATCCGAGCAGAGCTGGGACAACCTGGAGCCCTCCTAGGAGACGACCAAGTCTACAACGTAGTCGTCACAGCCCATGCTTTCGTAATAATTTTCTTCATAGTTATACCAATTATAATCGGAGGGTTCGGAAACTGACTAGTCCCTCTAATAATTGGAGCCCCAGATATAGCATTCCCACGAATAAACAACATAAGCTTCTGACTACTTCCCCCATCCTTCCTTCTTCTACTAGCATCCTCCACCGTGGAAGCAGGTGTCGGTACAGGCTGAACAGTGTACCCACCACTAGCCGGTAACCTGGCCCACGCCGGAGCCTCAGTCGACCTAGCAATCTTCTCCCTACATCTAGCCGGTATTTCTTCAATCCTAGGGGCCATTAACTTTATCACAACAGCAATCAACATGAAACCCCCTGCTCTCTCACAATACCAAACCCCCCTGTTCGTCTGATCCGTCTTAATCACTGCAGTCCTACTACTCCTCTCTCTCCCAGTACTTGCCGCAGGAATCACAATGCTCCTCACAGACCGTAACCTCAACACTACATTCTTCGACCCCGCAGGAGGAGGAGACCCTATCCTATACCAACACCTTTTCTGATTCTTTGGCCATCCAGAAGTATACATCCTAATCCTG
-- end --

Download FASTA File

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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Piranga olivacea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 3
Specimens with Barcodes: 6
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.

History
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Least Concern (LC)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
  • Lower Risk/least concern (LR/lc)
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