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Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Superfamily: Emberizoidea
Family: Thraupidae
Cabanis, 1847
Type genus
Boie, F., 1826

Many: see text

The tanagers (singular /ˈtænəər/) comprise the bird family Thraupidae, in the order Passeriformes. The family has a Neotropical distribution and is the second-largest family of birds. It represents about 4% of all avian species and 12% of the Neotropical birds.[1]

Traditionally, the family contained around 240 species of mostly brightly colored fruit-eating birds.[2] As more of these birds were studied using modern molecular techniques, it became apparent that the traditional families were not monophyletic. Euphonia and Chlorophonia, which were once considered part of the tanager family, are now treated as members of the Fringillidae, in their own subfamily (Euphoniinae). Likewise, the genera Piranga (which includes the scarlet tanager, summer tanager, and western tanager), Chlorothraupis, and Habia appear to be members of the family Cardinalidae,[3] and have been reassigned to that family by the American Ornithological Society.[4]


Tanagers are small to medium-sized birds. The shortest-bodied species, the white-eared conebill, is 9 cm (4 in) long and weighs 6 g (0.2 oz), barely smaller than the short-billed honeycreeper. The longest, the magpie tanager is 28 cm (11 in) and weighs 76 g (2.7 oz). The heaviest is the white-capped tanager, which weighs 114 g (4.02 oz) and measures about 24 cm (9.4 in). Both sexes are usually the same size and weight.

Tanagers are often brightly colored, but some species are black and white. Males are typically more brightly colored than females and juveniles. Most tanagers have short, rounded wings. The shape of the bill seems to be linked to the species' foraging habits.


Tanagers are restricted to the Western Hemisphere and mainly to the tropics. About 60% of tanagers live in South America, and 30% of these species live in the Andes. Most species are endemic to a relatively small area.


Most tanagers live in pairs or in small groups of three to five individuals. These groups may consist simply of parents and their offspring. These birds may also be seen in single-species or mixed flocks. Many tanagers are thought to have dull songs, though some are elaborate.[citation needed]


Tanagers are omnivorous, and their diets vary by genus. They have been seen eating fruits, seeds, nectar, flower parts, and insects. Many pick insects off branches or from holes in the wood. Other species look for insects on the undersides of leaves. Yet others wait on branches until they see a flying insect and catch it in the air. Many of these particular species inhabit the same areas, but these specializations alleviate competition.


The breeding season is March through June in temperate areas and in September through October in South America. Some species are territorial, while others build their nests closer together. Little information is available on tanager breeding behavior. Males show off their brightest feathers to potential mates and rival males. Some species' courtship rituals involve bowing and tail lifting.

Most tanagers build cup nests on branches in trees. Some nests are almost globular. Entrances are usually built on the side of the nest. The nests can be shallow or deep. The species of the tree in which they choose to build their nests and the nests' positions vary among genera. Most species nest in an area hidden by very dense vegetation. No information is yet known regarding the nests of some species.

The clutch size is three to five eggs. The female incubates the eggs and builds the nest, but the male may feed the female while she incubates. Both sexes feed the young. Five species have helpers assist in feeding the young. These helpers are thought to be the previous year's nestlings.


The family Thraupidae was introduced (as the subfamily Thraupinae) in 1847 by German ornithologist Jean Cabanis. The type genus is Thraupis.[5][6]

The family Thraupidae is a member of an assemblage of over 800 birds known as the New World, nine-primaried oscines. The traditional pre-molecular classification was largely based on the different feeding specializations. Nectar-feeders were placed in Coerebidae (honeycreepers), large-billed seed-eaters in Cardinalidae (cardinals and grosbeaks), smaller-billed seed-eaters in Emberizidae (New World finches and sparrows), ground-foraging insect-eaters in Icteridae (blackbirds) and fruit-eaters in Thraupidae.[1] This classification was known to be problematic as analyses using other morphological characteristics often produced conflicting phylogenies.[7] Beginning in the last decade of the 20th century, a series of molecular phylogenetic studies led to a complete reorganization of the tradition families. Thraupidae now includes large-billed seed eaters, thin-billed nectar feeders, foliage gleaners as well as fruit-eaters.[1]

One consequence of redefining the family boundaries is that for many species their common names are no longer congruent with the families in which they are placed. As of July 2020 there are 39 species with "tanager" in the common name that are not placed in Thraupidae. These include the widely distributed scarlet tanager and western tanager which are both now placed in Cardinalidae. There are also 106 species within Thraupidae that have "finch" in their common name.[8]

A molecular phylogenetic study published in 2014 revealed that many of the traditional genera were not monophyletic.[1] In the resulting reorganization six new genera were introduced, eleven genera were resurrected and seven genera were abandoned.[9][8]

As of July 2023 the family contains 386 species which are divided into 15 subfamilies and 105 genera.[1][8] For a complete list, see the article List of tanager species.

List of genera[edit]


The plushcap has no close relatives and is now placed in its own subfamily. It was previously placed either in the subfamily Catamblyrhynchinae within the Emberizidae or in its own family Catamblyrhynchidae.[1]

Image Genus Species
Catamblyrhynchus Lafresnaye, 1842


The coal-crested finch is endemic to the grasslands of Brazil and has no close relatives. It is unusual in that both sexes have a crest. It was formerly placed in Emberizidae.

Image Genus Species
Charitospiza Oberholser, 1905


Two species with large thick bills. Parkerthraustes was formerly placed in Cardinalidae.

Image Genus Species
Orchesticus Cabanis, 1851
Parkerthraustes Remsen, 1997


Brightly colored sexually dichromatic birds, most form single-species flocks

Image Genus Species
Nemosia Vieillot, 1816
Cyanicterus Bonaparte, 1850
Sericossypha Lesson, 1844
Compsothraupis Richmond, 1915


Grassland dwelling birds that were formerly placed in Emberizidae.

Image Genus Species
Coryphaspiza G.R. Gray, 1840
Embernagra Lesson, 1831
Emberizoides Temminck, 1822


Yellow billed birds: The blue finch (Rhopospina caerulescens) was formerly placed in the Cardinalidae; the other species were formerly placed in Emberizidae.

Image Genus Species
Incaspiza Ridgway, 1898
Rhopospina Cabanis, 1851


These species are sexually dichromatic and many have yellow and black plumage. Except for Heterospingus they have slender bills.

Image Genus Species
Chlorophanes Reichenbach, 1853
Iridophanes Ridgway, 1901
Chrysothlypis Berlepsch, 1912
Heterospingus Ridgway, 1898
Hemithraupis Cabanis, 1850


Sexually dichromatic species—males have blue plumage and females are green.

Image Genus Species
Tersina Vieillot, 1819
Cyanerpes Oberholser, 1899
Dacnis Cuvier, 1816


Mainly arboreal with long tails and thick bills. Formerly placed in Cardinalidae.

Image Genus Species
Saltatricula Burmeister, 1861
Saltator Vieillot, 1816


Diversity of Darwin's finches

This subfamily includes Darwin's finches that are endemic to the Galápagos Islands and Cocos Island. Most of these species were formerly placed in the Emberizidae; the exceptions are the bananaquit that was placed in the Parulidae and the orangequit that was placed in the Thraupidae. These species build domed or covered nests with side entrances. They have evolved a variety of foraging techniques, including nectar-feeding (Coereba, Euneornis), seed-eating (Geospiza, Loxigilla, Tiaris), and insect gleaning (Certhidea).[1]

Image Genus Species
Coereba Vieillot, 1809
Tiaris Swainson, 1827
Euneornis Fitzinger, 1856
Melopyrrha Bonaparte, 1853
Loxipasser Bryant, 1866
Phonipara Bonaparte, 1850
Loxigilla Lesson, 1831
Melanospiza Ridgway, 1897
Asemospiza Burns, Unitt, & Mason, 2016

Darwin's finches:

Image Genus Species
Certhidea Gould, 1837
Platyspiza Ridgway, 1897
Pinaroloxias Sharpe, 1885
Camarhynchus Gould, 1837
Geospiza Gould, 1837


Most of these are lowland species. Many have ornamental features such as crests, and many have sexually dichromatic plumage.[1]

Image Genus Species
Volatinia Reichenbach, 1850
Conothraupis Sclater, PL, 1880
Creurgops Sclater, PL, 1858
Eucometis Sclater, PL, 1856
Trichothraupis Cabanis, 1851
Heliothraupis Lane et al., 2021
Loriotus Jarocki, 1821
Coryphospingus Cabanis, 1851
Tachyphonus Vieillot, 1816
Rhodospingus Sharpe, 1888
Lanio Vieillot, 1816
Ramphocelus Desmarest, 1805


These species were formerly placed in Emberizidae.

Image Genus Species
Sporophila Cabanis, 1844
Seedeaters and seed finches (includes species previously assigned to Dolospingus and Oryzoborus) 41 species:


Some of these species were formerly placed in Emberizidae.

Image Genus Species
Piezorina Lafresnaye, 1843
Xenospingus Cabanis, 1867
Cnemoscopus Bangs & Penard, 1919
Pseudospingus Berlepsch & Stolzmann, 1896
Poospiza Cabanis, 1847
Kleinothraupis Burns, Unitt, & Mason, 2016
Sphenopsis Sclater, 1862
Thlypopsis Cabanis, 1851
Castanozoster Burns, Unitt, & Mason, 2016
Donacospiza Cabanis, 1851
Cypsnagra Lesson, R, 1831
Poospizopsis Berlepsch, 1893
Urothraupis Taczanowski & Berlepsch, 1885
Nephelornis Lowery & Tallman, 1976
Microspingus Taczanowski, 1874


This is a morphologically diverse group that includes seed-eaters (Nesospiza, Sicalis, Catamenia, Haplospiza), arthropod feeders (Conirostrum), a bamboo specialist (Acanthidops), an aphid feeder (Xenodacnis), and boulder field specialists (Idiopsar). Many species live at high altitudes. Conirostrum was previously placed in Parulidae, Diglossa was placed in Thraupidae and the remaining genera were placed in Emberizidae.[1]

Image Genus Species
Conirostrum d'Orbigny & Lafresnaye, 1838
Sicalis F. Boie, 1828
13 species
Phrygilus Cabanis, 1844
Nesospiza Cabanis, 1873
Rowettia Lowe, 1923
Melanodera Bonaparte, 1850
Geospizopsis Bonaparte, 1856
Haplospiza Cabanis, 1851
Acanthidops Ridgway, 1882
Xenodacnis Cabanis, 1873
Idiopsar Cassin, 1867
Catamenia Bonaparte, 1850
Diglossa Wagler, 1832
18 species


Typical tanagers

Image Genus Species
Calochaetes Sclater, PL, 1879
Iridosornis Lesson, 1844
Rauenia Wolters, 1980
Pipraeidea Swainson, 1827
Pseudosaltator K.J. Burns, Unitt & N.A. Mason, 2016
Dubusia Bonaparte, 1850
Buthraupis Cabanis, 1851
Sporathraupis Ridgway, 1898
Tephrophilus R. T. Moore, 1934
Chlorornis Reichenbach, 1850
Cnemathraupis Penard, 1919
Anisognathus Reichenbach, 1850
Chlorochrysa Bonaparte, 1851
Wetmorethraupis Lowery & O'Neill, 1964
Bangsia Penard, 1919
Lophospingus Cabanis, 1878
Neothraupis Hellmayr, 1936
Diuca Reichenbach, 1850
Gubernatrix Lesson, 1837
Stephanophorus Strickland, 1841
Cissopis Vieillot, 1816
Schistochlamys Reichenbach, 1850
Paroaria Bonaparte, 1832
Ixothraupis Bonaparte, 1851
Chalcothraupis Bonaparte, 1851
Poecilostreptus Burns, KJ, Unitt, & Mason, NA, 2016
Thraupis F. Boie, 1826
Stilpnia Burns, KJ, Unitt, & Mason, NA, 2016
14 species
Tangara Brisson, 1760
28 species

Genera formerly placed in Thraupidae[edit]

Passerellidae – New World sparrows[10]

Cardinalidae – cardinals[11][7]

Fringillidae – subfamily Euphoniinae

Phaenicophilidae – Hispaniolan tanagers[10][12]

Mitrospingidae – Mitrospingid tanagers[10]






  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Burns, K.J.; Shultz, A.J.; Title, P.O.; Mason, N.A.; Barker, F.K.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Lovette, I.J. (2014). "Phylogenetics and diversification of tanagers (Passeriformes: Thraupidae), the largest radiation of Neotropical songbirds". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 75: 41–77. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2014.02.006. PMID 24583021.
  2. ^ Storer, Robert W. (1970). "Subfamily Thraupinae". In Paynter, Raymond A. Jr (ed.). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 13. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. pp. 246–408.
  3. ^ Yuri, T.; Mindell, D. P. (May 2002). "Molecular phylogenetic analysis of Fringillidae, "New World nine-primaried oscines" (Aves: Passeriformes)". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 23 (2): 229–243. doi:10.1016/S1055-7903(02)00012-X. PMID 12069553.
  4. ^ "Family: Cardinalidae". American Ornithological Society. Retrieved Feb 1, 2019.
  5. ^ Cabanis, Jean (1847). "Ornithologische Notizen". Archiv für Naturgeschichte (in German). 13: 186–256, 308–352 [316].
  6. ^ Melville, R.V. (1977). "Opinion 1069 Correction of entry in official list of family-group names in zoology for name number 428 (Thraupidae)". Bulletin of Zoological Nomenclature. 33 (3/4): 162–164.
  7. ^ a b Klicka, J.; Burns, K.; Spellman, G. M. (2007). "Defining a monophyletic Cardinalini: A molecular perspective". Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 45 (3): 1014–1032. doi:10.1016/j.ympev.2007.07.006. PMID 17920298.
  8. ^ a b c Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (July 2021). "Tanagers and allies". IOC World Bird List Version 11.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 18 December 2021.
  9. ^ Burns, K.J.; Unitt, P.; Mason, N.A. (2016). "A genus-level classification of the family Thraupidae (Class Aves: Order Passeriformes)". Zootaxa. 4088 (3): 329–354. doi:10.11646/zootaxa.4088.3.2. PMID 27394344.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Barker, F.K.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Lovette, I.J. (2013). "Going to extremes: contrasting rates of diversification in a recent radiation of New World passerine birds". Systematic Biology. 62 (2): 298–320. doi:10.1093/sysbio/sys094. PMID 23229025.
  11. ^ Burns, K.J.; Hackett, S.J.; Klein, N.K. (2003). "Phylogenetic relationships of Neotropical honeycreepers and the evolution of feeding morphology". Journal of Avian Biology. 34 (4): 360–370. doi:10.1111/j.0908-8857.2003.03171.x.
  12. ^ a b c d e Barker, F.K.; Burns, K.J.; Klicka, J.; Lanyon, S.M.; Lovette, I.J. (2015). "New insights into New World biogeography: An integrated view from the phylogeny of blackbirds, cardinals, sparrows, tanagers, warblers, and allies". The Auk. 132 (2): 333–348. doi:10.1642/AUK-14-110.1.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]