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Tangara florida

Emerald Tanager

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thraupidae
  • Polytypic 2 Subspecies

Authors: Austin, Bertrand Clark, and Kevin J. Burns



The Emerald Tanager is a medium-sized tanager within the genus Tangara. Easily identified by its distinctive green-and-black striped plumage, this tanager is found in southern Central America and northern South America.

Similar Species

The Emerald Tanager has a distinctive plumage that is unlikely to be confused with any other bird in its range. The predominantly bright green coloration easily sets it apart from the similarly patterned Golden Tanager Tangara arthus (Ridgely and Tudor 1989), and Emerald Tanager and is not as intensely colored as the Glistening-green Tanager Chlorochrysa phoenicotis (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001).

In western Colombia and northwestern Ecuador, Emerald Tanager overlaps with the superficially similar Blue-whiskered Tanager (Tangara johannae). Blue-whiskered Tanager has a black face and throat, however, and a contrasting turquoise blue malar; this is very different from the mostly green face and throat of Emerald Tanager.


The Emerald Tanager has a limited vocal range. The most frequently heard vocalizations are calls, ranging from a sharp tsit to a raspy, penetrating, moderate to high pitched jree or dzreee (Isler and Isler 1987). Calls of Emerald Tanagers are described as burrier than those of Golden (Tangara arthus) or Silver-throated (Tangara icterocephala) tanagers (Hilty and Brown 1986). Calls are repeated randomly or sometimes accelerated as a twitter, possibly when interacting aggressively (Isler and Isler 1987). Probable song involves burry high zeeeeee notes repeated regularly with 3 s pauses, lasting 2-3 minutes (Isler and Isler 1987).

Recordings of vocalizations can be heard at Macaulay Library and xeno-canto

Nonvocal Sounds

None reported.

Detailed Description (appearance)

Sexes similar, but female duller than male.

The following description (nominate florida) is based primarily on Wetmore et al. (1984); see also Ridgway (1902) and Stiles and Skutch (1989). Also see Geographic Variation.

Adult, male: Primarily bright light green, streaked with black on the upperparts. Lores, base of bill, and chin black. Center and rear of crown glossy dark yellow; remainder of crown, band across nape, and orbital region glossy yellow-green. Patch on auriculars black. Upper back black; feathers edged with glossy light green, creating a streaked effect. The lower back, rump, and uppertail coverts are dark yellow. Wings black; coverts tipped with and outer webs of secondaries edged light green. The rcetrices are black, with outer webs very finely edged light green. Underparts light green; center of belly and undertail coverts light yellow.

Adult, female: Similar to male, but yellow of head replaced with yellow-green.

Immature: Closely resembles adult female (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Juvenile: Much duller. Green areas of upperparts with olive tinge. Crown with indistinct blackish spotting. Back with narrow, indistinct, dusky streaks. Rump and underparts olive-green, tinged with gray on the throat and with yellow on the belly (Stiles and Skutch 1989).

Bare Parts

Iris: brown (Restall et al. 2007); dark (Robbins et al. 1985)

Bill: black (Stiles and Skutch 1989, Restall et al. 2007); dark (Robbins et al. 1985)

Tarsi: bluish gray (Robbins et al. 1985, Stiles and Skutch 1989); gray (Restall et al. 2007)


Total length: 10.6-11.7 cm (Wetmore et al. 1984); 12 cm (Stiles and Skutch 1989); 13 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001)

Measurement data (mean, range) for Emerald Tanager (Tangara florida); measurements in mm, from Wetmore et al. 1984.
 Wing LengthTail LengthTarsus LengthCulmen (from base)n
Male65.9 (64.2-67.337.2 (31.1-40.515.9 (15.2-16.4)11.6 (10.4-13.7)10
Female63.5 (62.0-66.2)37.9 (35.8-39.7)15.9 (14.7-16.8)11.7 (10.2-13.3)7

Mass, both sexes:
19 g (Stiles and Skutch 1989)

18 g (n = 2) (Isler and Isler 1987)

18.6 g (n =13), Costa Rica (Naoki 2003)

18.5 g, male, Panama (Robbins et al. 1985)

19.0-20.5 (n = 2), females, Panama (Robbins et al. 1985)


After the first molt, the plumage of the juvenile male resembles that of an adult female. The Subadult male retains this plumage through the first breeding season, and only after the second molt do males gain adult plumage (Carriker 1910, cited in Isler and Isler 1987). 

Geographic Variation

At least three subspecies have been described (Wetmore et al. 1984). Storer (1970) recognized two subspecies, but Wetmore et al. (1984) considered the species to be monotypic.

florida (Sclater and Salvin 1869). Type locality Costa Rica. See Detailed Description. Caribbean slope of Costa Rica and western Panama.

auriceps Chapman 1914. Type locality Buenavista, Nariño, Colombia. Extreme eastern Panama south to northwestern Ecuador. Similar to florida, but with more extensive yellow on the crown, reaching to the middle of the eyes. In addition, the greenish edges of the scapulars are narrower, or non-existent (Hellmayr 1936).


The Emerald Tanager is classified in the genus Tangara, the largest genus of Neotropical birds. Tangara is divided into 13 species groups based on vocalizations, diet, geographic distributions, behavior, and appearance (Isler and Isler 1987). Isler and Isler classified the Emerald Tanager within group 5, the largest species group, along with seven other species:  Blue-whiskered Tanager (T. johannae), Green-and-gold Tanager (T. schrankii), Golden Tanager (T. arthus), Silver-throated Tanager (T. icterocephala), Saffron-crowned Tanager (T. xanthocephala), Golden-eared Tanager (T. chrysotis), and Flame-faced Tanager (T. parzudakii). All of these species except T. parzudakii have a striped back, all are forest dwelling, and six of the eight species (including the Emerald Tanager) have a consistent, diagonal-lean foraging method (Isler and Isler 1987). Monophyly of the this species group has been upheld using molecular data, specifically cytochrome b and NADH dehydrogenase subunit 2 genes of the mitochondria (Burns and Naoki 2004, Sedano and Burns 2010). The Emerald Tanager is most closely related to the Silver-throated Tanager (Tangara icterocephala) (Burns and Naoki 2004, Sedano and Burns 2010). 

Recommended Citation

Austin, Bertrand Clark, and Kevin J. Burns. 2011. Emerald Tanager (Tangara florida), Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Ithaca: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: