Hepatic tanager

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Hepatic tanager
Piranga hepatica.jpg
Northern hepatic tanager,
Piranga flava hepatica
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Cardinalidae
Genus: Piranga
Species: P. flava
Binomial name
Piranga flava
Vieillot, 1822

Piranga hepatica

The hepatic tanager (Piranga flava) is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae).[2] The species's plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.


The common name hepatic means "liver-coloured", namely, brownish-red.[3] The specific name flāva is Latin for yellow or golden.

The habits of the hepatic tanager are similar to those of the western tanager.[4]

It ranges from the southwestern United States (Arizona, New Mexico, and locally in southern California and Colorado) to northern Argentina.

There are three subspecies groups, which may be separate species:

  • the hepatica group, breeding from Nicaragua north, in pine and pine-oak forests and partially migratory
  • the lutea group (sometimes known as the tooth-billed tanager[5]), resident from Costa Rica to northern and western South America in highland forest edges
  • the flava group (sometimes known as the red tanager[5]), resident in open woods elsewhere in South America[6]

Members of the northern group are larger and stockier than other Piranga tanagers and have a relatively short tail and a stout bill. Its brightest color is always on its forehead and throat. In all plumages, it has gray flanks, dusky cheeks, and a dark eye streak. The female is yellow, and the male is red. Its average weight is 38 g (1.3 oz). Its average wingspan is 31.8 cm (12.5 in) and length is 20.3 cm (8.0 in).[4]

Its call is a low, dry chup like the hermit thrush. Its song is clearer than Thraupidae tanagers and far more similar to the song of the black-headed grosbeak, another member of the Cardinalidae. The flight call is a husky and rising weet.[4]

It looks for food in the foliage of trees, moving slowly and methodically; different individuals use different strategies. In summer, the northern form largely eats insects, spiders and some fruit. In Mexico, it has been observed to eat nectar. From Oaxaca south, it follows swarms of army ants.[6]

Even the northern population's behavior and life history are remarkably little known.[6]


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Piranga flava". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Remsen, J.V., Jr.; Cadena, C.D.; Jaramillo, A.; Nores, M.; Pacheco, J.F.; Robbins, M.B.; Schulenberg, T.S.; Stiles, F.G.; Stotz, D.F.; Zimmer, K.J. "A classification of the bird species of South America". American Ornithologists' Union: South American Checklist Committee. 
  3. ^ "hepatic". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005.  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
    “(adj.) Liver-coloured, dark brownish-red; as in hepatic aloes, hepatic tanager.”
  4. ^ a b c Sibley, David (2003). The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Western North America. ISBN 0-679-45121-8. 
  5. ^ a b Gill, F.; Donsker, D., eds. (2014). "IOC World Bird List (v 4.3)". doi:10.14344/IOC.ML.4.3. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  6. ^ a b c Eddleman, William R. (2002). Poole, A., ed. "Hepatic Tanager (Piranga flava)". The Birds of North America Online. Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology. 

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