Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Scarlet Tanager

Piranga olivacea

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.
Conservation status 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.
Family Cardinals
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.
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.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
  • adult male, nonbreeding
  • adult male, breeding
  • adult female
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.


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.

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.


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.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

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

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Migration

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

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song a hurried, burry, repetitive warble, somewhat like that of a robin. Call note an emphatic, nasal chip-bang.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Tanagers Perching Birds

Scarlet Tanager

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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