Scarlet Tanager: Migration Monday

Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea)


Scarlet Tanagers are medium-sized songbirds that spend their summers in the Eastern United States. They have bright plumage but are actually hard to find since they spend their time singing high up in the tree tops. Male Scarlet Tanagers are brilliant red with black wings and females are greenish-yellow with olive wings. Tanagers are finch-like with thick bills, stocky bodies, and short tails. In the fall, males molt to look more like the females, but retain their black wings.


Long-distant migrant. Summer (breeding): Eastern United States. Migration: Southeastern United States, the Caribbean Islands, and parts of Central America. Winter: South America.


Mainly deciduous forests, sometimes pine-oak woods or coniferous woods. Scarlet Tanagers prefer to breed in oak trees. In the winter they spend time in the tropic rain forest or lowlands near the Andes.


Scarlet Tanagers are foliage gleaners who mainly eat insects. They either perch or hover when grabbing insects and will swallow smaller insects whole. They will press larger insects into a branch. They will mainly forage towards the canopy but may also forage on the ground.

Breeding and Nesting:

Males will display their contrasting colors to the female by standing on a branch below her and drooping his wings/spreading his tail. Scarlet Tanagers are monogamous during the breeding season but choose new mates each year. Females will build the nest in a deciduous tree on a horizontal branch that is usually away from the trunk. Scarlet Tanagers have 1 brood per year with the average clutch size of 3-5 eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for 12-14 days and chicks will be fed by both parents (but mainly the female). The chick will fledge 9-15 days after hatching, but will be cared for by the parents for about 2 weeks after fledging.

A pair at their nest (Image via


A repetitive, hurried warble. Many people say that a Scarlet Tanager sounds like an American Robin that has a sore throat.

Fun Facts:

  • Scarlet Tanagers migrate mainly at night and fly across the Gulf of Mexico to reach their breeding and wintering grounds.
  • Scarlet Tanagers sometimes fall victim to Cowbird parisitism. If the Tanagers sees the female Brown-headed Cowbird approaching they will attack it to keep it away. However, if the Cowbird is not spotted, it will throw out the Tanager’s egg and replace it with their own. The Tanager cannot tell that it is not their egg and will unknowingly raise the Cowbird chick.
Male Scarlet Tanager (Image by the National Park Service via
  • They are one of the few birds where the female also sings. She can answer the male’s song similarly , but in a shorter and softer manner.
  • Scarlet Tanagers are the only North American birds that has the combination of red bodies and black wings.

Author: BirdNation

I am an avid birder, teacher, and nature lover. I primarily go birding in New Jersey and Pennsylvania, but love to travel. I am currently a biology student with interests in conservation biology, ornithology, and environmental sciences. My dream is to go birding in all 50 states.

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