Green-headed tanager

The tanagers (singular /ˈtænədʒər/) comprise the bird family Thraupidae, in the order Passeriformes. The family has an American distribution. The Thraupidae are the second-largest family of birds and represent about 4% of all avian species and 12% of the Neotropical birds. Traditionally, about 240 species of tanagers were described, but the taxonomic treatment of this family's members is currently in a state of flux. As more of these birds are studied using modern molecular techniques, some genera are expected to be relocated elsewhere. Already, species in the genera Euphonia and Chlorophonia, which were once considered part of the tanager family, are now treated as members of 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 cardinal family, and have been reassigned to that family by the American Ornithologists' Union.


Tanagers are small to medium-sized birds. The shortest-bodied species, the white-eared conebill, is 9 cm (3.5 in) long and weighs 7 grams, barely smaller than the short-billed honeycreeper. The longest, the magpie tanager is 28 cm (11 in) and weighs 76 grams (0.168 pounds). The heaviest is the white-capped tanager which weighs 114 grams (0.251 pounds) 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. Birds in their first year are often duller or a different color altogether. Males are typically more brightly colored than females. 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 New World 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. Birds may also be seen in single-species or mixed flocks. Many tanagers are thought to have dull songs, though some are elaborate.


Tanagers are omnivorous, and their diets vary from genus to genus. They have been seen eating fruits, seeds, nectar, flower parts, and insects. Many pick insects off branches. 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 behaviour. 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.


Phylogenetic studies suggest the true tanagers form three main groups, two of which consist of several smaller, well-supported clades. The list below is an attempt using information gleaned from the latest studies to organize them into coherent related groups, and as such may contain groupings not yet accepted by or are under review by the various ornithological taxonomy authorities.

Group 1

Mainly dull-coloured forms

a) Conebill and flowerpiercer group (Also contains HaplospizaCatameniaAcanthidopsDiglossaDiglossopisPhrygilus and Sicalis traditionally in the Emberizidae) This group despite having a rather varied bill morphology shows marked plumage similarities. Most are largely gray, blue, or black, and numerous species have rufous underparts:

  • Genus Conirostrum – typical conebills (10 species)
  • Genus Oreomanes – giant conebill
  • Genus Xenodacnis – tit-like dacnis
  • Genus Catamenia (three species)
  • Genus Diglossa – typical flowerpiercers (14 species)
  • Genus Diglossopis – blue flowerpiercers (four species)
  • Genus Haplospiza (two species), paraphyletic with two species of sierra-finch Phrygilus
  • Genus Acanthidops – peg-billed finch
  • Genus Phrygilus - sierra finches (11 species)
  • Genus Sicalis – yellow finches (12 species), paraphyletic with Phrygilus

b) True seedeaters. Traditionally placed in Emberizidae, these genera share a particular foot-scute pattern which suggests they may form a monophyletic group:

  • Genus Sporophila – typical seedeaters (some 55 species)
  • Genus Oryzoborus (six species)
  • Genus Dolospingus – white-naped seedeater
  • Genus Charitospiza – coal-crested finch

c) "Yellow-rumped" clade:

  • Genus Heterospingus (two species)
  • Genus Chrysothlypis (two species)
  • Genus Hemithraupis (three species)

d) "Crested" clade (Also contains Coryphospingus and Volatinia traditionally placed in the Emberizidae):

  • Genus Ramphocelus – silver-billed tanagers (nine species)
  • Genus Lanio – shrike-tanagers (four species)
  • Genus Eucometis – gray-headed tanager
  • Genus Tachyphonus (eight species)
  • Genus Trichothraupis – black-goggled tanager
  • Genus Stephanophorus – diademed tanager
  • Genus Coryphospingus (two species)
  • Genus Volatinia – blue-black grassquit

e) "Blue finch" clade, relationships within Thraupidae uncertain, but may be related to Poospiza clade:

  • Genus Porphyrospiza - blue finch

f) The Poospiza clade - a diverse but close-knit group containing both warbler- and finch-like forms:

  • Genus Poospiza – warbling-finches (15 species)
  • Genus Compsospiza - mountain finches (two species)
  • Genus Cnemoscopus – gray-hooded bush tanager
  • Genus Hemispingus – hemispinguses (12 species)
  • Genus Thlypopsis (six species)
  • Genus Pyrrhocoma – chestnut-headed tanager
  • Genus Cypsnagra – white-rumped tanager
  • Genus Nephelornis – pardusco

g) Grass and pampa-finches, relationships within Thraupidae are uncertain, but together form a well-supported clade:

  • Genus Emberizoides (three species)
  • Genus Embernagra (two species)

h) A miscellaneous and likely polyphyletic group of unplaced "tanager-finches" (which may or may not include the species called tanager-finch) whose members when studied will no doubt be relocated to other clades:

  • Genus Melanodera (two species)
  • Genus Rowettia – Gough Island finch
  • Genus Nesospiza (two species)
  • Genus Gubernatrix – yellow cardinal
  • Genus Idiopsar – short-tailed finch
  • Genus Piezorina – cinereous finch
  • Genus Xenospingus – slender-billed finch
  • Genus Incaspiza – Inca finches (five species)
  • Genus Coryphaspiza – black-masked finch
  • Genus Rhodospingus – crimson-breasted finch
  • Genus Donacospiza – long-tailed reed finch (may be related to Poospiza)

i) Basal forms in group 1:

  • Genus Conothraupis (two species)
  • Genus Orchesticus – brown tanager
  • Genus Creurgops (two species)

Group 2

"Typical" colourful tanagers

a) Tropical canopy tanagers:

  • Genus Thraupis - T. abbas & episcopus at least
  • Genus Pipraeidea (two species)
  • Genus Tangara (about 50 species)

b) The "Tholospiza" - Darwin's finches, grassquits, atypical honeycreepers, and some seedeaters: The finch-like forms in this clade were formerly classified in the Emberizidae:

  • Genus Geospiza – ground finches (six species)
  • Genus Camarhynchus – tree finches (five species)
  • Genus Platyspiza - vegetarian finch
  • Genus Certhidea – warbler-finches (two species)
  • Genus Pinaroloxias – Cocos finch
  • Genus Melopyrrha – Cuban bullfinch
  • Genus Coereba – bananaquit - formerly placed in its own family Coerebidae
  • Genus Tiaris – grassquits (five species) - polyphyletic
  • Genus Loxipasser – yellow-shouldered grassquit
  • Genus Euneornis – orangequit
  • Genus Melanospiza – St. Lucia black finch
  • Genus Loxigilla – Antillean bullfinches (three species) - polyphyletic

c) Mountain tanagers:

  • Genus Cyanicterus – blue-backed tanager
  • Genus Bangsia – (five species)
  • Genus Buthraupis – (two species)
  • Genus Cnemathraupis – (two species)
  • Genus Chlorornis – grass-green tanager
  • Genus Wetmorethraupis – orange-throated tanager
  • Genus Anisognathus – (five species)
  • Genus Dubusia – (two species)
  • Genus? Saltator rufiventris - rufous-bellied saltator
  • Blue-gray tanager, Thraupis episcopus

d) Typical tanagers:

  • Genus Thraupis - (nine species)
  • Genus Pipraeidea (two species)
  • Genus Iridosornis (five species)

e) Typical multicoloured tanagers (includes Paroaria traditionally placed in either Emberizidae or Cardinalidae):

  • Genus Diuca (two species)
  • Genus Lophospingus (two species)
  • Genus Neothraupis – white-banded tanager
  • Genus Cissopis – magpie tanager
  • Genus Paroaria (five or six species)
  • Genus Schistochlamys (two species)

f) Green and golden-collared honeycreepers:

  • Genus Chlorophanes – green honeycreeper
  • Genus Iridophanes – golden-collared honeycreeper

g) Typical honeycreepers and relatives:

  • Genus Tersina – swallow tanager
  • Genus Cyanerpes, the typical honeycreepers (four species)
  • Genus Pseudodacnis – turquoise dacnis-tanager
  • Genus Dacnis, the dacnises (eight species)

h) Basal lineages within group 2:

  • Genus Chlorochrysa (three species)
  • Genus Parkerthraustes – yellow-shouldered grosbeak (traditionally in Cardinalidae, but biochemical evidence suggests it is a tanager)
  • Genus Nemosia – (two species)
  • Genus Compsothraupis – scarlet-throated tanager
  • Genus Sericossypha – white-capped tanager

Thraupidae incertae sedis

  • Genus Orthogonys – olive-green tanager
  • Genus Calochaetes – vermilion tanager
  • Genus Catamblyrhynchus – plushcap
  • Genus Oreothraupis – tanager finch
  • Genus Urothraupis – black-backed bush tanager
  • Genus Lamprospiza – red-billed pied tanager
  • Genus Xenoligea – white-winged warbler
  • Genus Microligea – green-tailed warbler
  • Genus Incaspiza - Inca finches (five species)

Group 3 Incertae sedis

  • Genus Saltator (16 species; traditionally placed in Cardinalidae, but biochemical evidence suggests they may be tanagers or a sister group)
  • Genus Saltatricula – many-coloured Chaco finch - traditionally placed in the Emberizidae, but may be related to one of the saltators
  • Genus Mitrospingus (two species)
  • Genus Nesospingus – Puerto Rican tanager
  • Genus Spindalis – spindalises (four species).
  • Genus Phaenicophilus – palm tanagers (two species)
  • Genus Calyptophilus – chat-tanagers (two species)
  • Genus Rhodinocichla – rosy thrush-tanager

Recently split from ThraupidaeEdit

Related to Arremonops and other American sparrows in Emberizidae:

  • Genus Chlorospingus – bush-tanagers (around 10 species)

Related to the cardinals in Cardinalidae:

  • Genus Piranga – northern tanagers (nine species)
  • Genus Habia – ant-tanagers or habias (five species)
  • Genus Chlorothraupis (three species)
  • Genus Amaurospiza (four species; apparently very close to Cyanocompsa)

Fringillidae, subfamily Euphoniinae:

  • Genus Euphonia (over 25 species)
  • Genus Chlorophonia (five species)
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