Two subspecies are recognized for R. bresilius (Dickinson and Christidis 2014 , Clements et al. 2015). One subspecies is Ramphocelus bresilius bresilius, which is found in coastal northeast Brazil from Paraíba to Bahia (Clements et al. 2015). The second subspecies is Ramphocelus bresilius dorsalis, which is found in coastal southeast Brazil from Minas Gerais and Espírito Santo to Santa Catarina (Clements et al. 2015). The back of males in R. bresilius dorsalis is a darker shade of red than R. bresilius bresilius (Hilty 2011).
This species is a tanager (family Thraupidae) and belongs to the subfamily Tachyphoninae (Burns et al. 2014). This subfamily, also known as the ‘ornamented tanagers’, includes many species distributed across the Neotropical lowlands, and most species have social ornaments such as crests or bright color patches (Burns et al. 2014). There are 10 genera (including Ramphocelus) in this subfamily. The genus Ramphocelus includes nine species and is most closely related to a clade containing three Tachyphonus species (T. phoenicius, T. coronatus, and T. rufus; Burns et al. 2014). Within Ramphocelus, Ramphocelus bresilius, R. carbo, R. dimidiatus, and R. melanogaster form a superspecies (Paynter and Storer 1970), with hybridization recorded between R. carbo and R. bresilius (Sibley and Monroe 1990 , Sick 1993). Hackett (1996) sequenced ND2 and cytochrome b for several species of Ramphocelus, including two of these species (R. bresilius and R. carbo). These two species were found to be more closely related to each other than any other species of Ramphocelus included in the Hackett (1996) study. Burns and Racicot (2008) sampled all species of Ramphocelus for the same gene regions as Hackett (1996) and recovered a clade that contained all four species of this superspecies as well as R. nigrogularis. Within that clade, R. bresilius was most closely related to a clade containing R. carbo and R. melanogaster, but support for that relationship was not strong. Burns et al. (2014) included the same genes as well as nuclear genes for some species. This study also recovered a clade containing Ramphocelus bresilius, R. carbo, R. dimidiatus, R. melanogaster, and R. nigrogularis, with strong support. R. bresilius was the sister to the other four species in the clade, but this relationship was weakly supported. Further phylogenetic analyses are needed to clarify the relationship of R. bresilius to other members of this clade. Biogeographically, this clade represents a radiation within the South American lowlands, with R. dimidiatus also dispersing to Central America. R. bresilius and T. coronatus have hybridized in captivity (Sick 1993).