Scarlet Tanager Habits

The male Scarlet Tanager may be a brillant red during breeding season, but it's more likely that you'll hear him than see him. Perching high atop the forest canopy, his singing is the best clue to his presence.

Making the longest trip of the four species that travel north, this bird arrives from the Andes each year just as the buds are flowering.

Male Scarlet Tanager bird on limb

Male Scarlet Tanager


The Scarlet Tanager measures 6 1/2 to 7 1/2 inches in length. Breeding males are a brilliant red with black wings and a black tail.

Scarlet Tanager Call

Female birds are yellowish below and greenish above. The wings are a grayish brown.

Beginning at the end of July or early August, the male bird molts from his bright red and black alternate plumage to a drab, female-like basic plumage.

Individual birds show varying degrees of red splotches until molting is complete.

Mating Habits

As soon as they arrive in the Spring, males begin staking out and aggressively defending territories.

During courtship the habits of the male change. Instead of singing high atop the trees as he does when claiming territory, he slips to a lower level where he can spread his wings and display his brilliant color to female birds perched higher up and behind.

With the mating habits complete the nesting begins.

Nesting Habits

During the nest building and incubation period the male stays away from the nest. Although he will defend the nest site against other males.

The same bright colors that attracted his mate also make him a target for predators. Thus, the female bird does all the nest building and incubation.

The nest is a shallow cup of twigs, grass and stems. Located 5 - 75 feet above ground on the end of an horisontal limb.

The female lays 3 - 5 pale blue or green eggs that are finely or boldly spotted with brown.

Incubation last about 14 days and the young leave the nest within 9 - 11 days after hatching. Only 1 brood is raised each season.

Feeding Habits

Scarlet Tanagers feed on the gound and in foliage, eating insects, spiders, and berries.

A welcomed bird to gardeners, one bird was recorded as eating 600 tent caterpillars in 15 minutes.

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