Photo: Rick & Nora Bowers/Vireo

Hepatic Tanager

Piranga flava

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.
Conservation status Has probably declined in some areas of Southwest in recent decades. Nests may be parasitized fairly often by cowbirds.
Family Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
Habitat Open mountain forests, oaks, pines. In our area, breeds at middle elevations in mountains and canyons, in forest of oaks and tall pines; also in some regions in low pinyon pine woods with a scattering of taller trees. In the tropics, lives mostly in the mountains, also locally in lowland pine savanna.
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.
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Feeding Behavior

Forages rather slowly and deliberately, hopping along branches and pausing to peer about at the foliage. Mostly feeds high in trees, but sometimes forages in low shrubs and rarely on the ground. Sometimes flies out to catch insects in mid-air.


Eggs

3-5, typically 4. Bluish green, with brown spots often concentrated at the larger end. Incubation behavior and length of incubation period not well known. Young: Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.


Young

Probably both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which the young leave the nest is not well known.

Diet

Mainly insects, also berries. Apparently feeds largely on insects, including caterpillars and beetles, probably many others. Also eats berries and small fruits, especially in late summer, including wild grapes.


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory. Nest site is in tall tree, often pine, oak, or sycamore, usually 15-50' above the ground. Usually placed at a fork of a horizontal branch well out from the trunk. Nest is a shallow open cup made of grass and weed stems, lined with fine grass. Apparently built mostly by the female, although male may accompany her and may help carry nest material.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Probably only a short-distance migrant, retreating into Mexico in fall; a few may stay through winter in southern Arizona. Strays sometimes reach California coast, and have wintered there.

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Migration

Probably only a short-distance migrant, retreating into Mexico in fall; a few may stay through winter in southern Arizona. Strays sometimes reach California coast, and have wintered there.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Strong short phrases, whistled vireo-fashion at even intervals; each phrase may rise, fall, or remain on the same tone. Call notes are a low chup and an inquisitive wheet?
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How Climate Change Will Reshape the Range of the Hepatic Tanager

Audubon’s scientists have used 140 million bird observations and sophisticated climate models to project how climate change will affect this bird’s range in the future.

Zoom in to see how this species’s current range will shift, expand, and contract under increased global temperatures.

Climate threats facing the Hepatic Tanager

Choose a temperature scenario below to see which threats will affect this species as warming increases. The same climate change-driven threats that put birds at risk will affect other wildlife and people, too.

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