The Crimson-backed Tanager is restricted to the lowlands and valleys of northern Colombia, northwestern Venezuela, and Panama. It closely resembles several other species in the genus Ramphocelus, but no similar species occurs within its range. It is a handsome bird, with scarlet flanks and rump grading into deep velvety crimson head and back. The base of the mandible in the adult male is swollen and brilliant white. Females and young birds are duller dusky red-brown. They travel in noisy flocks in scrub, edge, and secondary growth and are generally common, particularly in areas with human activity.