The Golden-naped Tanager is a small, primarily blue tanager. It has a black face mask that extends from forehead to chin and just behind the eyes. The wings and tail black, the feathers edged with blue, and it has tawny flanks and undertail coverts. The color of the nape orcrown patch varies in different subspecies, and may be bright yellow or rufescent.
Golden-naped Tanager can be confused with a few other tanager species. Metallic-green Tanager (Tangara labradorides) and Swallow Tanager (Tersina viridis) both have similar plumage to the Golden-naped Tanager (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b) as does the Blue-and-black Tanager Tangara vassorii (Ridgely and Tudor 1989, 2009), but they differ in a few distinct ways. All of the above species are blue with a black facial mask, but the Golden-naped Tanager has a unique plumage pattern: no other tanager that is primarily blue also has a golden or reddish crown patch or nape.
Adult male: Bright blue, with a black face mask that extends from forehead to chin and back just behind the eyes. It has a distinctive golden nape and tawny flanks and undertail coverts. The wings and tail are black, but the feathers are edged with blue (Hilty and Brown 1986, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b).
Adult female: Patterns as male, but are duller in coloration (Meyer de Schauensee 1964, Restall et al. 2007b); nape patch narrower (Isler and Isler 1987).
Juvenile: Differs from the adult in brightness and in pattern. Juveniles are a dull blue-gray (Murray 1970). The breast and belly of the juvenile is lighter than the rest of the body, the flanks are tawny as in the adult plumage, and the golden nape is absent (Restall et al. 2007b).
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). Species in the genus Tangara generally acquire adult plumage after the postjuvenal molt (Skutch 1954: 261). Although a subadult/juvenile plumage is described for Tangara ruficervix (Isler and Isler 1987), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species.
Iris: dark brown
Tarsi and toes: gray, medium gray
Bare parts color data from specimens in the Field Museum of Natural History.
Total length: 13 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986, Isler and Isler 1987, Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b)
Mass: mean 19 g (range 16-22.2 g, n = 15, sexes combined; Isler and Isler 1987); mean 19.7 ± 1.6 g, n = 16, sexes combined; Naoki 2003)