Endemic to the southern Atlantic Forest, the stunningly attractive and virtually unmistakable Chestnut-backed Tanager occurs from São Paulo south to Rio Grande do Sul, in Brazil, as well as more narrowly ranging into adjacent northeast Argentina, Uruguay, and southeast Paraguay. At least formerly, this species was often treated as being conspecific with the Black-backed Tanager (Tangara peruviana), as the two were believed to represent nothing more than color morphs. They are only really separable in male plumage; as their names suggest, it is the color of the mantle, black in Tangara peruviana, and coppery rufous in Tangara preciosa, which is key to their identification. The present species is found in mature forest, perhaps especially near its borders, to at least 1000 m, and appears to show some preference for areas with a relative abundance of Araucaria (monkey-puzzle) trees. The Chestnut-backed Tanager is typically found in pairs, often within mixed-species flocks of insectivores.