8 Surprising Facts About Tanagers

Take a peek into the vibrant world of North American tanagers. Learn about tanagers' nests, plumage and their favorite foods.

1. Flame-Colored Tanagers Are Rare in the U.S.

A flame-colored tanager was spotted in the U.S. for the first time in 1985. The species is still a rare visitor in Arizona’s Chiricahua Mountains. Here’s where to find flame-colored and hepatic tanagers.

scarlet tanagerCourtesy Peter Brannon
Scarlet tanager

2. Tanagers Nest in Tall Trees

Look to the treetops for tanager birds and their nests. The birds construct homes on branches as high as 75 feet. Check out proven tips to attract nesting birds.

western tanagerCourtesy Susan Forde
Western tanager in Blythe, California

3. Look for Western Tanagers Up North

Western tanagers breed farther north than any other tanager. (Psst — check out 11 gorgeous photos of western tanagers.) Their northernmost range stretches into Canada’s Northwest Territories, where it’s so cold that they may stay only two months before heading south.

Meet the boreal birds of the northwoods.

4. Learn to ID North American Tanager Species

Five tanager species are found in North America: summer, scarlet, western, hepatic, and flame-colored. Some of the yellow tanagers look alike — here’s how tell them apart.

summer tanagerCourtesy Cassie Brooke
Male summer tanager

5. Only Bird With Completely Red Plumage

There are a few mostly red birds (northern cardinals, pine grosbeaks, vermillion flycatchers) in North America, but the male summer tanager is the only one with completely red coloring. Check out 9 birds that look like cardinals.

6. Western Birds Have Longer Bills and Tails

Summer tanagers in the west have 15 percent longer bills and tails than the ones in the east. Learn more about western birds and their eastern counterparts.

7. Tanagers Eat Berries

Attract scarlet tanagers to your backyard with berry-producing trees and shrubs. Six that will do the trick: raspberry, huckleberry, serviceberry, mulberry, strawberry, and chokeberry. Do scarlet tanagers eat oranges?

8. Tanagers Help Control Caterpillars

People once believed that a scarlet tanager could eat 2,000 spongy moth caterpillars in an hour. That’s false, but these birds do help control pests.

Kirsten Schrader
Kirsten has more than 15 years of experience writing and editing birding and gardening content. As content director of Birds & Blooms, she leads the team of editors and freelance writers sharing tried-and-true advice for nature enthusiasts who love to garden and feed birds in their backyards. Since joining Birds & Blooms 17 years ago, Kirsten has held roles in digital and print, editing direct-to-consumer books, running as many as five magazines at a time, and managing special interest publications. Kirsten has traveled to see amazing North American birds and attended various festivals, including the Sedona Hummingbird Festival, the Rio Grande Bird Festival, The Biggest Week in American Birding Festival, and the Cape May Spring Festival. She has also witnessed the epic sandhill crane migration while on a photography workshop trip to Colorado. Kirsten has participated in several GardenComm and Outdoor Writers Association of America annual conferences and is a member of the Wisconsin Society for Ornithology. When she's not researching, writing, and editing all things birding and gardening, Kirsten is enjoying the outdoors with her nature-loving family. She and her husband are slowly chipping away at making their small acreage the backyard of their dreams.