Multicolored Tanager Chlorochrysa nitidissima



Distinguishing Characteristics

The small, active, and strong-legged Multicolored Tanager has brightly-colored harlequin style plumage decorated with gold, green, and blue hues (Hilty 2011). In the male the best field marks are the bright yellow face and throat and a large yellow saddle on the back (Hilty and Brown 1986). The black patches bordered chestnut on the side of the face and the glistening blue rump and underparts are also distinctive (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Females and juveniles are similar but duller. Females lack the bright yellow saddle, but retain the bright yellow face and black spot on the side of the neck (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). Despite their bright colors, they blend into their mossy forest habitats remarkably well, and the distinctive yellow back is usually difficult to see.

Similar Species

The Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima) has a very distinct color pattern with bright colors and is unmistakable if seen well. The best field mark for the Multicolored Tanager is the distinct yellow patch on its back, however this can be difficult to see in poor lighting. In these situations, the adults can look dark green and be confused with the Saffron-crowned Tanager (Hilty and Brown 1986). The Saffron-crowned Tanager (Tangara xanthocephala) can be distinguished by its back throat and ocular area, whereas the Multicolored Tanager has a yellow throat. The dull green immature Multicolored Tanager can be mistaken for any other immature Tangara, however the Multicolored Tanager has a longer and thinner bill. Immature Glistening-green Tanagers (Chlorochrysa phoenicotis) can be difficult to distinguish from immature C. nitidissima, but the latter is of a more dull green color rather than a shiny green color of the immature Glistening-green Tanager (Ridgely and Tudor 1989). The female Green Honeycreeper (Chlorophanes spiza) has a longer, more forceps-like mandible (Hilty and Brown 1986, Restall et al. 2007). The vocalization of the Multicolored Tanager is similar to the Orange-eared Tanager (Chlorochrysa calliparaea), the Orange-eared Tanager with a higher wheezy sceep or tsip sound than the Multicolored Tanager (Restall et al. 2007, Hilty 2011).

Detailed Description

The Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima) is as a strong-legged, long and thin billed tanager with striking and distinctive plumage. The adult male Multicolored Tanager is golden-yellow from the forehead to mid-crown and from the side of his head to just behind his eyes, with the center of the throat golden-orange (Hilty 2011). The rear crown and nape is glistening green (Restall et al. 2006, Hilty 2011). The feathers located on the ear coverts are made up of distinctive club-shaped feathers, which are further described below, that fade from black to a posterior chestnut border. A bright yellow triangle saddle sits on the mantle and upper back, while the upper tail coverts are glistening turquoise-blue (Hilty 2011). The breast is also glistening turquoise-blue, with the flanks and sides a mixture of green and blue, and the center of the lower breast and the belly are black (Walden 1873, Sclater 1875, Isler and Isler 1987, Hilty 2011). The tail is dusky, with the central feathers tinged green, and all tail feathers edged bright green, and the undertail coverts are glistening blue-green (Hilty 2011). The flight feathers are dusky edged bright green, the secondaries and tertials are dull green rather than dusky, but also tinged bright green (Hilty 2011). The upper wing coverts are dusky, edged and tipped bright green (Hilty 2011). Females are similar to males, but have a considerably duller yellow face, the throat looks stained and less golden-orange, and they lack the yellow triangular patch on the mantle instead the entire back and mantle is bright greenish. The rump is a bluish-green and the wings have a more dull green color. The dichromatism between the sexes of this species is stronger than we can visually perceive, for analysis of plumage using an avian model of vision has measured strong dichromatism within the ultraviolet spectrum (Shultz 2011, Burns and Shultz 2012). The juveniles are similar to females but even duller in color, lacking the lemon-yellow interscapulum which is greenish tinged yellow, with the middle of the belly gray not black, and with generally less blue (Hellmayr 1911, Hilty 2011).

Club-tipped patches of feathers are common behind the ear openings in males of the South American tanagers Chlorochyrsa. These feathers are enlarged at the tips and lack barbules. There are three different types of feather enlargement: a uniform widening of the entire length of barb, a gradual widening from the base to the tip of barb, and the sudden widening at the very tip of the barb. All three styles of feathers are integrated together so that a single description of the club tips are impossible. The small patches of feathers are primarily of intense coloration, typically always orange. It is assumed that the widening of the barbs and lack of barbules results in heavy deposition of carotenoid pigments meant for display purposes. Melanin, another form of pigment, is reduced in these modifications and may inhibit the formation of the club-tipped feathers. Carotenoids require a greater metabolic expense than the production of melanin which is theorized to explain the highly specialized and localized means of displaying bright pigments in club-tipped feathers (Innes 1979). These feather occur in all Chlorochrysa species, but are only weakly present in C. nitidissima (Innes 1979).


Tanagers that have been studied have either a 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). More specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species. Although an immature plumage is described for Chlorochrysa nitidissima (Hilty 2011), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species.

Bare Parts

The iris is dark brown, the bill is blackish, and the tarsi and legs are dark gray (Walden 1873, Sclater 1875, Hellmayr 1911, Hilty 2011).


The total length is 12-13 cm (Sclater 1875, Isler and Isler 1987). Reported measurements include wing: 69 mm, tail: 44.5 mm (Walden 1873). Measurements from two immature birds, a male and female, are reported below in Table 1 (Hellmayr 1911). The average weight is 18.6 g (n: 8, range: 17.3-21.6 g); more specifically, males had weights of 19.6, 21.6, 17.5, 18.0, and 17.3 g, and females had weights of 18.9, 18.5, and 17.8 g (Miller 1963). On the last day before fledgling, two nestlings from different nests had tarsi of 20.0 and 22.4 mm, bill of 9.0 and 10.0 mm, and mass of 13.7 and 15.0 g (Loaiza-Muñoz et al. 2017). Additional measurements of developing nestlings and eggs are reported in the breeding section.

Table 1. Measurements from Hellmayr 1911
Locality Sex Wing (mm) Tail (mm) Bill (mm)
Siató, Rio Siató male 67 44 12
Pueblo Rico female 67 43 13

Recommended Citation

Multicolored Tanager (Chlorochrysa nitidissima), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: