The Turquoise Tanager takes its name for the turquoise of the the face, the sides of the neck, and on the flanks. The upperparts are extensively black. The belly is a contrasting pale color, either light yellow (in Amazonia) or white (in eastern Brazil).
The Turquoise Tanager can be distinguished readily from other species. The Masked Tanager (Tangara nigrocincta), which also is extensively black with a pale belly, has a paler, light blue hood. The Opal-rumped Tanager (Tangara velia) also is dark blue and black, but does not have the pale belly; instead, the Opal-rumped Tanager has chestnut undertail coverts.
The following description refers to the four Amazonian taxa; for subspecies brasiliensis of eastern Brazil, see Geographic Variation.
Adult: Sexes similar. Forecrown, face, and breast are dark turquoise blue. The lores are black. The hind crown, back, wings, and tail are dark turquoise blue; lesser wing coverts turquoise. Flanks dark turquoise blue, with scattered black spots. Belly pale yellow.
Juveniles: Hatchlings are pinkish with a small amount of gray on the head and lower back (Sproule 2006). Fledglings at the age of 13 days have some shiny blue feathers on the head and rump, a dull blue-black back and chin, and a pale yellow belly (Sproule 2006).
Little information. Molt reported in Trinidad from June-September (ffrench 1991).
Specimen data from the Field Museum of Natural History:
Iris: brown, dark brown
Tarsus: black, slate, blue-black
Total length: 13.2 cm (Hilty and Brown 1986), 13.5 cm (Ridgely and Greenfield 2001); subspecies brasiliensis larger, 14 cm (Isler and Isler 1999).
Snow and Snow (1971) presented the following mean morphometric data (with no indication of range or sample size):
wing length: 73 mm (from live birds)
tail length: 50 mm (from "freshly dead birds")
tarsus length: 17 mm (from "freshly dead birds")
culmen length (from anterior edge of nares): 7.8 mm (from museum specimens)
bill depth (at the anterior edge of nares): 5.5 mm (from museum specimens)
Mass: mean 20.9 g (Snow and Snow 1971); mean 20 g (range 17.0-23.5 g, n=35; Isler and Isler 1999). Mass of brasiliensis 26 g (Sick 1993).