The Flame-faced Tanager is a medium sized tanager, with a mostly black and silvery-green body. The most distinctive feature is the brightly colored facial markings, which vary from red to yellow-orange, depending on the subspecies. These facial markings contrast sharply with black auriculars, face mask, and throat.
The Flame-faced Tanager has been described as “unmistakable”, and is not likely to be confused with any other species; it is readily identified by the brightly colored facial markings around the forehead and below the eye. The Saffron-crowned Tanager (T. xanthocephala) shares a close resemblance to one of the subspecies of Flame-faced Tanager (T. parzudakii lunigera), which lacks red on the face. However, the Saffron-crowned Tanager has an overall yellow crown with a black ring around the back of the neck, a greenish breast, and a yellow crissum. In addition, the Saffron-crowned Tanager is smaller than T. parzudakii lunigera (Restall et al. 2007).
The following description refers to nominate parzudakii, and is based on Hilty (2011); see also Geographic Variation. Many areas of the plumage are opalescent, and the colors will vary depending upon the angle from which the bird is viewed:
Adult: Sexes similar. Lower forecrown, lores, ocular ring, chin, throat, and broad bar on the side of the neck black. Auriculars, malars, and forecrown deep flame red. Crown and nape bright yellow. Upper back black. Lower back and rump opalescent to golden straw, often with a bluish tinge, this bluish tinge stronger on the uppertail coverts. Rectices black. Lesser and median wing coverts shining opalescent blue to greenish opalescent; greater wing coverts black, with broad shining pale blue edges. Remiges black; secondaries and tertials narrowly edged with bluish. Underparts shining opalescent silvery green, mixed with buff; center of belly pale cinnamon buff, darker on the flanks and undertail coverts.
Immature: The red of the head is replaced by dull yellow. Throat dingy pale buffy gray; other areas of the plumage that are black in the adult are dull dusky. Black of lores and ocular ring obscure. Plumage overall duller and less shining.
In general, most tanagers only molt once a year (Isler and Isler 1987), and this prebasic molt likely occurs afterthe breeding season (Isler and Isler 1987, Ryder and Wolfe 2009). However, many species have been found to breed in subadult plumage (Isler and Isler 1987). In many species of Tangara, the preformative molt is partial (Ryder and Wolfe 2009). Although a subadult/juvenile plumage is described for Tangara parzudakii (Isler and Isler 1987), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species.
Iris: dark brown
Tarsi and toes: dark gray
Bare parts color data from Hilty (2011).
Total length: 14-15 cm (Meyer de Schauensee 1964, Hilty and Brown 1986, Isler and Isler 1987, Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990, Hilty 2003).
Mass (overall): mean 28 g (range 25-31 g, n = 21; Isler and Isler 1987).
Mass (Mindo, Ecuador): mean 26.6 g, SD = 1.4; n=9 (Naoki 2007).