The Brazilian Tanager is a medium-large member of the genus Ramphocelus. Bills are generally thick, when compared to other members of the same genus. Males are unmistakable in coloration. Their bodies are blood-red and they have black tails/wings. Females, on the other hand, are significantly different and have an overall brown body coloration. R. bresilius females are similar in appearance to females of the closely related Silver-beaked Tanager (Ramphocelus carbo).
Despite the distinctness of males in the species, the females can be more difficult to identify. R. bresilius females are generally grayer and lighter in color then R. carbo (Isler and Isler, 1987). Although R. carbo occupies most of the Amazon basin, their distribution only overlaps with R. bresilius near the coastline. Furthermore, R. bresilius is generally seen in pairs while R. carbo can be more numerous (Ridgely and Tudor, 2009).
Adult (males): As described above, males are blood-red and have black wings/tails. Another unique feature of the genus as a whole is the presence of an enlarged lower half of the mandible in males that is white or silvery in color (Sick 1993). This feature is very prominent in R. bresilius.
Adult (females): Overall, females are brown and have light-colored undersides. Most of the head is grayish brown in color. The throat is also typically grayish brown, which then transitions to a shade of orange on the belly. The orange transitions to a shade of red on undertail coverts and the rump (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Juvenile females are almost exactly the same in appearance to adult females. However, it is possible that brown iris color can be used as a key feature to identify young females from the red-eyed adult females (Nogueira and Alves 2008 ).
Juvenile (males): Juvenile males have the same coloration of females and are difficult to distinguish at a young age (Nogueira and Alves 2008). Young males can be differentiated from females because they have black bills, while females have brown bills (Sick 1993). Juvenile males can also be distinguished from females when their adult plumage begins to come in. As the males reach their second year blood-red feathers begin to appear and are very noticeable against the brown pre-molt feathers (Hilty 2011).
R. bresilius has a “complete preformative molt” (Mallet-Rodrigues et al. 1995 ), unlike other members of its genus. Young birds completed a post-juvenile molt at variable times: less than one month to more than three (Mallet-Rodrigues et al. 1995). Molting periods for juveniles is from September to early June and from late December to early June for yearlings/adults (Mallet-Rodrigues et al. 1995). During the molt the soft, rufous-brown plumage on the underparts was replaced by a compact brown plumage that resembled an adult female (Mallet-Rodrigues et al. 1995). After this molt, the recognizable red feathers appear on the breast and head of immature males, but the white area of the lower mandible only fully appears during their first (yearling) adult molt (Mallet-Rodrigues et al. 1995). Adults do not change plumage colors during their annual molt (Mallet-Rodrigues et al. 1995 ).
Bill: males - black and white; females - brown (Sick 1993)
Iris: juvenile - brown; adult - red (Nogueira and Alves 2008)
Legs: dull brown to dark gray (Hilty 2011)
Length: Presume both sexes 18.5 cm (Ridgely and Tudor 1989).
Mass: Mean of 32.9 grams, range 27.9-35.5 grams, n=8 (Oniki 1981).