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
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.

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

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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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.