The Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) is a medium-sized American songbird. Traditionally placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae) it is now thought to be much closer to cardinals (Cardinalidae). With their coloration, they somewhat remind of the Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) and indeed it seems that this bird is a quite close relative.
Adults have pale stout smooth bills. Adult males are bright red with black wings and tail; females are yellowish on the underparts and olive on top, with olive-brown wings and tail. The adult male's winter plumage is similar to the female's, but the wings and tail remain darker. Young males briefly show a more complex variegated plumage intermediate between adult males and females. It apparently was such a specimen that was first scientifically described. Hence the older though somewhat confusing specific name olivacea ("the olive-colored one") is used rather than, as had been common throughout the 19th century, erythromelas ("the red-and-black one").
Their breeding habitat is large forested areas, especially with oaks, across eastern North America. These birds migrate to northwestern South America, passing through Central America around April, and again around October. They begin arriving on the breeding grounds in numbers by about May and already start to move south again in mid-summer; by early October they are all on their way south. This bird is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe.
These birds are often out of sight, foraging high in trees, sometimes flying out to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects and fruit.
They build a cup nest on a horizontal tree branch.
These birds do best in the forest interior, where they are less exposed to predators and brood parasitism by the Brown-headed Cowbird. Their numbers are declining in some areas due to habitat fragmentation, but on a global scale they are a plentiful species.