The tanagers are one of the one hundred eighteen families of birds in the order PASSERIFORMES (pronounced pas-ser-i-FOR-meez); a large taxonomic order that also includes the cardinals and grosbeaks, the Old World orioles, and the New World blackbirds.
The tanager family, Thraupidae (pronounced THRAU-pih-dee), is a large family composed of three hundred and ninety-six species in one hundred and two genera restricted to the Americas.
There are seventy species of Thraupidae in twenty-four genera that occur in North America. Included among these species are the Scarlet Tanager, bush-tanagers, and the spindalis species of the Caribbean.
The Scarlet Tanager, like many members of this family, is known for its brightly colored plumage. Vivid red and black, this bird shines like a red light against the green foliage.
The tanagers are small to medium-sized birds with medium length tails, fairly long wings, medium length legs with strong feet, and medium length fairly stout bills.
The tanager family is among the most brightly colored family of birds in the world. Just about every shade of color imaginable is shown by this family, especially in the glittering plumages of Tangara genus species in South America. The plumages of North American species are mostly red, yellow, and black, the females with duller yellow-olive coloration.
In North America, members of the Thraupidae occur in forested areas from southern Canada south into Mexico. In the United States and Canada, the Scarlet Tanager occurs in eastern deciduous forests and is mostly replaced by the Summer Tanager in the southeast and the Western Tanager in western coniferous forests. The Hepatic Tanager also occurs in southwestern coniferous forests, other tanager species in the United States being vagrants or introduced.
A few tanager species in North America are long distance migrants to Central and South America.
The North American tanager species are solitary birds on their breeding grounds, but often migrate in flocks and join mixed flocks on their tropical wintering grounds. Most species are arboreal birds that often occur high up in the canopy where they slowly forage for invertebrates and also take fruit.
The North American members of this family are not threatened, although a few species in South America are threatened by habitat destruction.
The Summer Tanager eats a great deal of bees, often taking them right from their nests without too much apparent discomfort from their stings. Although the stings may not bother it too much, the Summer Tanager does not enjoy eating the stingers because it is often seen rubbing the stinger off on a branch before swallowing the bee.