Notice for readers: On March 31, Neotropical Birds will be integrated into the new Birds of the World, a powerful research database offering species accounts for every species on earth. Learn more at While Birds of the World is a subscription service, we remain committed to offering this content to Neotropical Birds contributors and to those unable to pay for it through our scholarship program. Stay tuned.

Speckled Tanager Ixothraupis guttata

  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Thraupidae
  • Polytypic: 6 subspecies
  • Authors: Nicholas A. Mason and Kevin J. Burns


Distinguishing Characteristics

The Speckled Tanager is an active, small, locally common songbird found in the forest canopies of the island of Trinidad and on the coastal mountain ranges of Venezuela, in the highlands of southern Venezuela and immediately adjacent Brazil, on the eastern slope of the north central Andes, and westwards in Panama and Costa Rica. Most commonly found between 700-1500 m, this bird has conspicuous black dots on its white belly and green back, a yellow head, and broad turquoise lining on its wings. It is most commonly found in pairs or small groups, and frequently accompanies other small birds, particularly other Tangara species, in mixed-species foraging flocks.

Similar Species

The Speckled Tanager bears a strong resemblance to a few closely related species, with which it forms a clade: Spotted Tanager T. punctata, Yellow-bellied Tanager T. xanthogastra, and Dotted Tanager T. varia (Sedano and Burns 2010). While the Speckled Tanager is the only species of this group that occurs in Central America, these taxa overlap in southern Venezuela and in northwestern Brazil. The Speckled Tanager is distinguishable by its yellow head, extensive turquoise on wings, and predominantly white underparts. The closely related Spotted Tanager has a turquoise head, and greener wings than the Speckled Tanager (Ridgely and Tudor 2009). Both the Dotted Tanager and the Yellow-Bellied Tanager are mostly green (not white) below with a yellow belly (Hilty and Brown 1986), while the Speckled Tanager generally is found at higher elevations than the two other species (Hilty 2003).

Detailed Description

Males: The Speckled Tanager has a bright yellow orbital ring and supercilium, black lores, and an iridescent yellow crown that becomes increasingly green-yellow near the nape and connects with a bright emerald green back and rump (Ridgely and Gwynne 1992). The wings and tail are black, while both the tail and the greater, primary and secondary coverts are broadly lined with turquoise (Stiles and Skutch 1991). The throat and belly are predominantly white with extensive black dotting, while the flanks and crissum are a mottled-yellow green, becoming predominantly yellow posteriorly (Isler and Isler 1999).

Females: Similar plumage to adult males, but duller overall. Has black lores and yellow eyering, as in the male, but the crown is more of a greenish yellow than the bright yellow crown of the male (Isler and Isler 1999). Black spots are less extensive on lower breast of females (Stiles and Skutch 1991).

Juveniles: Above duller green, black markings appear more like small smudges than dots; lores dusky, face and forehead faintly yellow, below dull whitish. Mottled with dusky imperfect dots on throat and breast; flanks and sides washed with yellow-olive; crissum dull yellow (Stiles and Skutch 1991). Lacks yellow supercilium of adult (Wetmore et al. 1984).

See also the very detailed plumage description of Ridgway (1902).


Little is known concerning the sequence and timing of molts in the Speckled Tanager. Skutch (1954) noted that fledgling Speckled Tanagers (ca 15 days old) bear a close resemblance to the parents, and were indistinguishable 6 months after hatching. The precise timing in replacement of rectrices and remiges has not been studied in this species, and little is known as to the extent of geographic variation in molting patterns.

Bare Parts

Bare part color descriptions from Wetmore et al. (1984):

Iris: brown

Maxilla: black

Mandible: neutral gray

Tarsi and toes: dark neutral gray; claws: dusky neutral gray


Mensural data on Speckled Tanager, presented as range (mean).

LocationSex (n)Wing length (mm)Tail length (mm)Culmen from base (mm)Tarsus (mm)Body Length (mm)Mass (g)Source
Panamá and Costa RicaM(10)62.2-69 (65.7)41.4-48.8 (46.4) 11.4-14.1 (12.7)17.0-18.6 (17.8)116-130 Wetmore et al. (1984)
 F(10)63.2-66.0 (64.2)43.2-45.8 (44.4)11.8-13.6 (12.9)16.2-18.4 (17.3)116-130 Wetmore et al. (1984)
Trinidad and TobagoM (5)68-71 (70.0)     ffrench (1991)
 F (4)69 (69)     ffrench (1991)
 Unsexed (22)     15-20.5 (18.4)ffrench (1991)

Recommended Citation

Mason, N. A. and K. J. Burns (2010). Speckled Tanager (Ixothraupis guttata), version 1.0. In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA.