Family Cardinals (Cardinalidae)

Least Concern

Hepatic Tanager (Piranga hepatica)


French: Piranga à joues grises German: Zinnoberkardinal Spanish: Piranga hepática

Pyranga hepatica


, 1827,

Temascaltepec, Mexico


In HBW treated as two species, “Northern Hepatic-tanager” P. hepatica (with races dextra, figlina, albifacies and savannarum) and “Highland Hepatic-tanager” P. lutea (with races testacea, faceta, desidiosa, toddi and haemalea) based on molecular evidence#R, but morphological differences small (Northern has duskier ear-coverts with white shaft streaks) and analysis shows voices to be very similar#R. Treatment of present species as conspecific with P. flava, as in former arrangements, continues in places#R, but see latter for differences. A more recent study has suggested that the entire P. flava complex should be treated as either one species or four based on the available molecular evidence, given that E and W populations of “P. lutea” appear paraphyletic with respect to other taxa in the group#R. Proposed races zimmeri (described from S Sonora, in NW Mexico) and intensa (from Oaxaca in S Mexico) are both treated as synonymous with nominate; race haemalea given species rank#R but this was based on a comparison with P. flava saira, not other races in present species. Eleven subspecies recognized.

Subspecies and Distribution
  • P. h. hepatica Swainson, 1827 – Northern Hepatic-tanager – SW USA (E California, Arizona and W New Mexico, casually in SE California and S Colorado) S through highlands of Mexico (to Guerrero and Oaxaca); those in N migrate to S portion of breeding range or descend to lower elevations in winter.
  • P. h. dextra Bangs, 1907 – S USA (mountains of New Mexico and W Texas) S through highlands of E Mexico (to C Veracruz, E Oaxaca and Chiapas); those in N migrate mainly to area from C Nuevo León and Tamaulipas S to W Guatemala or descend to lower elevations in winter.
  • P. h. figlina Salvin & Godman, 1883 – E Guatemala and Belize.
  • P. h. albifacies J. T. Zimmer, 1929 – highlands of W Guatemala, Honduras, N El Salvador and NC Nicaragua.
  • P. h. savannarum T. R. Howell, 1965 – extreme E Honduras and NE Nicaragua.
  • P. h. testacea P. L. Sclater & Salvin, 1868 – highlands from N Costa Rica (Guanacaste) S to E Panama (E Darién).
  • P. h. desidiosa Bangs & Noble, 1918 – SW Colombia in middle and upper Cauca Valley (S from Antioquia, including isolated records at N end of both W & C Andean ranges) and W slope of W Andes (Dagua Valley S to upper Patía Valley, in Cauca).
  • P. h. lutea (Lesson, 1834) – Highland Hepatic-tanager – Andes of SW Colombia (Nariño) S through W Ecuador and Peru (S to Lima in W, and on E Andean slope from S of Marañón Valley) S to WC Bolivia (Cochabamba).
  • P. h. faceta Bangs, 1898 – N Colombia (Santa Marta Mts) and Andes and N cordilleras of Venezuela (E to Paria Peninsula); Trinidad.
  • P. h. toddi Parkes, 1969 – E Andes of Colombia on W slope (at El Cauca, in Magdalena, and Serranía de los Yariguíes, in Santander) and E slope (Chicamocha National Park, in Norte de Santander).
  • P. h. haemalea Salvin & Godman, 1883 – tepuis of S Venezuela (in Amazonas and Bolívar), and adjacent N Brazil (Sierra Imerí) and the Guianas.
  • Descriptive notes

    18 cm; 23–47 g. Male nominate race has ear-coverts dusky grey (not in strong contrast); rest of head and upperparts dusky grey-brown, tinged red, brightest on forecrown... read more


    Song a musical carolling “twee-hee chu-wíte cha-ha” etc., delivered slowly, with... read more


    In all highland areas favours open oak or pine–oak (PinusQuercus) or... read more

    Food and feeding

    Primarily insectivorous; also eats variety of vegetable matter, including domestic peppers, grapes, cherries and Miconia berries,... read more


    Breeds May–Jul in USA and May and Jun in Mexico; Aug in Belize and Apr in Nicaragua. Male may assist female with nest-building; nest... read more


    Migratory in N portion of range in USA and N Mexico, moving S for unknown distance; in some other... read more

    Status and conservation

    Not assessed. Probably not globally threatened. Fairly common and relatively widespread. Found in numerous national forests, national parks and biosphere reserves from SW USA... read more

    Recommended citation

    Hilty, S. (2019). Hepatic Tanager (Piranga hepatica). In: del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A., Sargatal, J., Christie, D.A. & de Juana, E. (eds.). Handbook of the Birds of the World Alive. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona. (retrieved from on 22 August 2019).