The tanagers are a family of songbirds found across the Americas. These small birds tend to be colorful; often males are more brightly plumaged than females.
Tanagers in name only?
There are four species of tanager found in North America. These are the Western Tanager, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, and Hepatic Tanager. They are in the genus Piranga and are thought to be closely related to cardinals; they may not belong in the tanagers' Thraupidae family at all.
Colorful Across the Americas
In total there are over 200 species of tanager. Most are found in tropical habitats, and many species have relatively small native ranges. For example, the Green-headed Tanager is found along a narrow strip extending from southeast Brazil down into southeastern Paraguay and northeast Argentina.
Western Tanager by Pacific Southwest Region USFWS [CC BY 2.0]
Western is Most North
North America's Western Tanager is notable for being the northern-most ranging species of tanager. This migratory species breeds as far north as Canada's Northwest Territories. They spend the winters in Central America.
Hepatic: I'm Huge in South America
In the United States, the Hepatic Tanager is only found as a breeding bird in the southwestern mountains. However, the species has a very large native range and many birds are permanent residents across a large portion of South America.
Summer's Pretty Song
Most tanagers are not known for their pretty song, but the Summer Tanager is an exception. It sings a melodic tune that reminds many of the American Robin's song.
Scarlet Tanager by Kelly Colgan Azar [CC BY-ND 2.0]
The Scarlet Tanager is particularly susceptible to brood parasitism from Brown-headed Cowbirds. Being forest nesters, they never developed a strategy against the rogue-nesting cowbirds. Segmented habitat (due to human developement) means tanagers more often nest near open habitats favored by cowbirds, rather than deep inside old-growth forests where cowbirds rarely occur.
Ripe Old Age
The longevity record for wild Western Tanagers is nearly seven years; for wild Summer Tanagers it is nearly eight years; and for wild Scarlet Tanagers the record is nearly twelve years. These records were collected via bird banding.