Hepatic Tanager

Piranga flava
Range Map

The Hepatic Tanager looks much like its cousin, the Summer Tanager, but the Summer Tanager’s beak is paler than the dark bill of the Hepatic. The Hepatic Tanager’s breeding range in the USA is restricted to Arizona and New Mexico. Though the Summer Tanagers breed there as well, they extend their breeding range east to the Atlantic states of the southeastern USA, while their Hepatic cousins remain in the west. Throughout most of the range of this bird in Mexico, Central, and South America, they are nonmigratory.

Taxonomists recognise 15 subspecies of Hepatic Tanager. They call the five that live in North America the Hepatica Group. Those are:

  • P. f. hepatica breeds in the southwestern USA from eastern California through Arizona, western New Mexico, occasionally southern Colorado, and through the highlands of Mexico. These migrate to the southern portion of their breeding range or descend to lower elevations in winter.
  • P. f. dextra breeds in the mountains of New Mexico and west Texas, south through the highlands of eastern Mexico. Those in the north migrate mainly to areas from eastern Mexico to Guatemala, or descend to lower elevations in winter.
  • P. f. figlina lives in Guatemala and Belize.
  • P. f. albifacies lives in the western highlands of Guatemala to Nicaragua.
  • P. f. savannarum lives in eastern Honduras and northeastern Nicaragua.

The Lutea Group, or Tooth-Billed Tanager set lives in Central and South America. Those six members are:

  • P. f. testacea, P. f. lutea, P. f. desidiosa, P. f. toddi, P. f. faceta, and P. f. haemalea.

Four more are members of the Flava, or Red Tanager Group, living in southern South America:

  • P. f. flava, P. f. macconnelli, P. f. saira, and P. f. rosacea.

Hepatic Tanagers occasionally show up in San Diego, but I’ve never been much of a “chaser”. My only encounter with these birds came in Arizona, during a visit to Madera Canyon early in May 2017.

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