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scarlet tanager

Piranga olivacea

What do they look like?

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.

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • male more colorful
  • Range mass
    23.5 to 38 g
    0.83 to 1.34 oz
  • Range length
    16 to 17 cm
    6.30 to 6.69 in
  • Range wingspan
    25 to 29 cm
    9.84 to 11.42 in

Where do they live?

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.

What kind of habitat do they need?

Scarlet tanagers are found mainly in mature deciduous forests or mixed deciduous forests with hemlock and pine. 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
    5003.28 (high) ft

How do they reproduce?

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.

  • Average eggs per season
  • Average time to hatching
    13 days
  • 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

How long do they live?

How do they behave?

How do they communicate with each other?

What do they eat?

  • Animal Foods
  • insects
  • terrestrial non-insect arthropods
  • Plant Foods
  • fruit

What eats them and how do they avoid being eaten?

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

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.

Do they cause problems?

There are no known negative effects of scarlet tanagers on humans.

How do they interact with us?

Scarlet tanagers eat insects that some humans may consider to be pests.

  • Ways that people benefit from these animals:
  • controls pest population

Are they endangered?

Scarlet tanagers are abundant and widespread, requiring no special conservation status.


Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.

Robin Street (author), University of Michigan-Ann Arbor.


Terres, John K. The Audubon Society Encyclopedia of North American Birds. Alfred A. Knopf: New York, 1980.

Mowbray, T. 1999. Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea). Birds of North America, 479: 1-14. Accessed February 04, 2008 at

University of Michigan Museum of ZoologyNational Science Foundation

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Street, R. 1999. "Piranga olivacea" (On-line), Animal Diversity Web. Accessed April 24, 2024 at

BioKIDS is sponsored in part by the Interagency Education Research Initiative. It is a partnership of the University of Michigan School of Education, University of Michigan Museum of Zoology, and the Detroit Public Schools. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant DRL-0628151.
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