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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.



living in the Nearctic biogeographic province, the northern part of the New World. This includes Greenland, the Canadian Arctic islands, and all of the North American as far south as the highlands of central Mexico.

World Map


living in the southern part of the New World. In other words, Central and South America.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends.


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


animals that generate their own body heat through metabolic processes.


forest biomes are dominated by trees, otherwise forest biomes can vary widely in amount of precipitation and seasonality.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


makes seasonal movements between breeding and wintering grounds


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


rainforests, both temperate and tropical, are dominated by trees often forming a closed canopy with little light reaching the ground. Climbing plants are also abundant. There is plenty of moisture and rain, but may be somewhat seasonal.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


living in residential areas on the outskirts of large cities or towns.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


Living on the ground.


the region of the earth that surrounds the equator, from 23.5 degrees north to 23.5 degrees south.


uses sight to communicate


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 21, 2014 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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