The Red-necked Tanager is an average-sized member of the genus Tangara. It is primarily green with a black back and a largely blue head and throat. Although its scientific name highlights the blue head, perhaps its most distinctive feature is the red scarf of plumage extending across the back of the neck to the chin.
The Red-necked Tanager has a very distinctive plumage that is unlikely to be confused with other tanagers; in particular, this is the only species of Tangara with a broad red neck band.
The male and female appear similar, however the female has a duller hue.
Adult male: Distinctive red nuchal collar wraps around the head and nape, as well as onto the auriculars, cheeks, and chin. Blue-violet crown and throat with pale blue plumage around the eye that also separates the forehead and the crown. The throat is violet blue. The rump and lower back are bright green. The back, scapulars, and feathers around the bill are black. There is a green edging on the remiges and rectrices, and the lesser wing coverts are narrowly tipped orange-yellow. The remaining under parts are bright green (Ridgely and Tudor 1989).
Adult female: The female has a similar coloration but appears duller; back is streaked (mottled) green and black as opposed to solid black in the male (Isler and Isler 1987, Ridgely and Tudor 1989).
Immature: Similar in coloration except for the absence or reduction of the red "scarf"(Isler and Isler 1987, Sick 1993).
In general, most tanagers only molt once a year (Isler and Isler 1987), and this prebasic molt likely occurs after breeding (Isler and Isler 1987, Ryder and Wolfe 2009). Many species, howver, have been found to breed in sub-adult plumage (Isler and Isler 1987). In many species of Tangara, the preformative molt is partial (Ryder and Wolfe 2009). Although a subadult plumage is described for Tangara cyanocephala (Isler and Isler 1987), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species.
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Total length: 13 cm (Isler and Isler 1987, Ridgely and Tudor 1989, van Perlo 2009)
Linear measurements (from Hellmayr 1936; sample sizes not indicated):
wing length, subspecies corallina: 60-64 mm; wing length, subspecies cearensis (males), 64-69 mm
tail length, subspecies corallina: 41-46 mm; tail length, subspecies cearensis (males), 47-50 mm
bill length, subspecies cearensis (males): 10 mm
Mass: mean 18 g (range 16-21.6 g) (Oniki 1981)