Brown Tanager Orchesticus abeillei



Distinguishing Characteristics

The Brown Tanager is a somewhat large sized species of tanager in the genus Orchesticus, primarily colored brown, rufous, and cinnamon-buff. The belly is dull cinnamon-buff, the back is brown, and the wings and tail are more rufous. The tail is medium length and squarish and the bill is stout. It has a thin black eyeline. The sexes are similar and the juvenile is similar but duller. The Brown Tanager is a social mimic of the Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner, Philydor rufum (Willis 1976). The genus name of Orchesticus abeillei comes from the Greek word “orkheÌ„stikos” which means good at dancing (Jobling 2010). The specific epithet “abeillei” is named from French naturalists and collectors M. Abeillie (fl. 1839) and his wife (Jobling 2010).

Similar Species

The Brown tanager is similar in appearance to a distantly related species, the Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner, Philydor rufum. The Brown Tanager is a social mimic of this species (Willis 1976). They occur in mixed species flocks and look alike; however, the Brown Tanager has a shorter buff superciliary stripe behind the eye and its eye-stripe is narrower (Willis 1976). The Buff-fronted Foliage Gleaner has a more slender bill with a hooked tip along with a notched tail (Ridgely and Tudor 2009). The Brown Tanager is also similar to the Chestnut-crowned Becard, which also regularly occurs with the Brown Tanager (Ridgely and Tudor 1998, Ridgely and Tudor 2009).

Detailed Description

Adult: The bill is very stout (Ridgely and Tudor 2009). Orchesticus abeillei is brown above and more rufous on the wings and tail. The forehead, broad superciliary, and face is cinnamon (Ridgely and Tudor 2009, Hilty 2011). It has a thin blackish eyeline extending from the lores back through the eye to the nape. Its underneath is a dull cinnamon-buff (Ridgely and Tudor 2009, Hilty 2011). The crown, lores, and postocular stripe are grayish brown. The upper wing coverts and bend of wing are olivaceous. There are hair-like feathers on the nape (Sick 1993). The tail is medium length, squarish, and a dusky heavily tinged rufous. The sexes are similar (Hilty 2011).

Juvenile: The immature is similar to the adult only duller in color (Hilty 2011).


The Brown Tanager has an immature plumage that is duller in color than the adult plumage, a pattern found in many tanager species (Ryder and Wolfe 2009, Hilty 2011). Little information is known on tanager molts as a whole, but the species that have been studied have been found to have complex basic strategy or complex alternative strategy (Ryder and Wolfe 2009). However, most tanagers only molt once a year (Isler and Isler 1987), and this prebasic molt likely occurs after the breeding season (Isler and Isler 1987, Ryder and Wolfe 2009). Many species have been found to breed in subadult plumage (Isler and Isler 1987). Although an immature plumage is described for Orchesticus abeillei (Hilty 2011), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species.

Bare Parts

Iris: red (Sick 1993)

Bill: slightly swollen, stout, and blackish (Hilty 2011)

Tarsi and toes: horn (Hilty 2011)


Length: 17-18 cm (Hilty 2011)

Mass: 31.5 g (Sick 1993)

Recommended Citation

Brown Tanager (Orchesticus abeillei), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: