Saffron-crowned Tanager is an average-sized member of the genus Tangara. Saffron-crowned Tanager has a bluish green body with black chin and eye mask, black streaks on the back, and, as both its common and scientific name suggests, a distinctive yellow head and crown.
Saffron-crowned Tanager is distinctively blue-bodied with a yellow head, a color pattern that sets it apart from most other birds in its range. Similar species with which Saffron-crowned Tanager is sympatric include Golden-eared Tanager (Tangara chrysotis) and Flame-faced Tanager (Tangara parzudakii). Golden-eared Tanager, howver, has a black mid-crown and nape. Flame-faced Tanager has a large opalescent patch on the wing coverts and a solid black back, while the Saffron-crowned Tanager has streaks on back.
Sexes similar. The following description refers to nominate xanthocephala, and is based on Fjeldså and Krabbe (1990) and on Restall et al. (2007); see also Geographic Variation.
Adult: The overall color of the body is a pale beryl green or turquoise green, which changes from a light green color to a light blue color depending on the angle of light. Forecrown, lores, orbital area, and chin are black. Otherwise the head is bright yellow, with an orange tinge to the crown. The back is streaked black. The wing and tail feathers are overall black, but are edged with beryl green or turquoise green. Center of the belly and the undertail coverts are buff.
Juvenile: Similar to the adult, but duller and greener. The yellow of the head is replaced with shining yellowish green. The underparts are edged with buff (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990).
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 juvenile plumage is described for Tangara xanthocephala (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990), more specific information on molt and its timing is not available for this species.
Iris: dark brown
Tarsi and toes: gray
Bare parts color data from specimens in the Field Museum of Natural History.
Total length: 12.5 cm (Fjeldså and Krabbe 1990), 13.2 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986, Hilty 2003), 13.5 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001b)
Linear measurements: from Hellmayr (1936), for lamprotis:
wing length, male 73-77 mm (n = ?); female 69-72 mm (n = ?)
tail length, male 49-53 mm (n = ?); female 46-50 mm (n = ?)
Mass: mean 19 g (range 15-23.6 g, n = 33, sexes combined; Isler and Isler 1987).