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Rainforests of the World 

October 19, 2010

The Bird of Seven Colors

The paradise tanager (Tangara chilensis), known locally as siete colores (seven colors), is one of our most asked about rainforest birds. We currently have three of these little beauties in our Rainforest exhibit and you can often spot them flocking together and chirping away.


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Paradise tanagers are found from the foothills of the Andes Mountains throughout most of the Amazon Basin with four subspecies: T. c. chlorocorys, T. c. paradisea, T. c. tchlorocorys and T. c. coelicolor. There is no obvious sexual dimorphism, meaning, differences between males and females. Aside from DNA testing, sex can be determined by observing behavior; males tend to call more often than females.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2009, paradise tanagers were evaluated as “least concern” in terms of future extinction. Although their population size is unknown, they have been decribed as ‘common’ throughout their large geographic range.


Photo by: Rachael Tom

These birds are the ultimate eye candy and have a colorful personality to match. Our paradise tanagers are usually one of the first species to appear when biologists feed out nectar every morning. Just like in the wild, our tanagers’ diet is also composed of fresh fruits and small insects here at the Academy. Above is a picture of our paradise tanagers at a nectar feeding station with two female red-legged honeycreepers (Cyanerpes cyaneus) and one female red-shouldered tanager (Tachyphonus phoenicius). Below is a paradise tanager eating a piece of fruit at one of five feedings stations in the Rainforest exhibit:


Photo by: Rachael Tom

In addition to being one of the first species to drink and feed every morning, our paradise tanagers are also always front and center for morning bathing. As our horticulturalists spray down tree leaves to remove debris, our paradise tanagers perch themselves in the middle of the spritz and began ruffling their feathers and preening just like their wild counterparts would do in heavy mist and rain. They are so dedicated to their bathing, they seem to only stop when the hose is shut off. Here are two paradise tanagers getting squeaky clean:


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Because tropical rainforests are located near the equator, this type of habitat does not experience as many seasonal fluctuations that other parts of the world do from the tilt of the Earth’s axis as it rotates around the Sun. In general, the tropics experience two seasons: the Dry season and the Wet season. Studies have shown that the greatest number of birds nesting in the tropics occurs between April and June which are the first few months of the wet season. Our paradise tanagers, however, have been nesting throughout Summer and into Fall. This could be because of consistent food availability which aids egg production. Here is a picture of one of our paradise tanagers trying to attract a mate:


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Paradise tanagers tend to favor nesting in the canopy of tropical rainforests. In addition to being out-of-reach for most predators, it is also believed that the humidity at the canopy level help their eggs develop properly. Once a nesting spot is chosen, our paradise tanagers will spend the majority of their day searching for nesting material.


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Although there is plenty of naturalistic nesting material in our Rainforest Exhibit such as moss, twigs and leaves, sometimes our tanagers get a little carried away. Anything left behind in our exhibit by humans is fair game for nesting material. This includes paper towels…


Photo by: Rachael Tom

and napkins.

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Check out one of our paradise tanagers sitting in her well-hidden nest:

Photo by: Rachael Tom

Paradise tanagers lay 2-3 eggs at once with an incubation period of 13-14 days. At the Academy, we have not yet observed our paradise tanagers incubate more than two eggs at a time.


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Although we have many eye-catching birds in our Rainforest Exhibit, the paradise tanagers are by far the most colorful. We are thankful that the species is not yet threatened by extinction and are lucky to have a few of them here!


Photo by: Rachael Tom

Filed under: Birds — rainforest @ 10:10 am


  1. I’m happy tohear these attractive birds are not an endangered species

    Comment by Lester Gallahorn — October 21, 2010 @ 5:48 pm

  2. Are these birds found in Costa Rica?

    Comment by skyellen — November 1, 2010 @ 5:50 am

  3. Thank you for sharing these wonderful pictures and information about such incredibly beautiful birds. Really interesting, appreciated and enjoyed!

    Comment by louise — November 1, 2010 @ 5:54 am

  4. Interesting! I hope that everyone had a great weekend and Halloween and I hope that they have a great week! Continued success with the tanagers. They’re beautiful!

    Comment by Mike — November 1, 2010 @ 6:32 am

  5. I am always charmed by our winged friends where ever I encounter them. Their beauty in song and color, as well as their fragility, always remind me of how extremely important it is for us to always protect our shared environment.

    Comment by William Yeager — November 1, 2010 @ 7:15 am

  6. Thank you for this very interesting description of the paradise tanager. Can you tell me how to put out fruit for birds? Must it be cut into beak size pieces first, for example, an orange? Thank you.

    Comment by Molla Donaldson — November 1, 2010 @ 8:46 am

  7. Do we know,from an evolutionary standpoint, why they evolved with such a beautiful array of colors?

    Comment by Maggie Scott — November 1, 2010 @ 1:11 pm

  8. It is quite encouraging that the tanagers are reproducing. Will you allow them to form a larger flock or is this trio the limit?

    Comment by Joe B. Pecora — November 1, 2010 @ 3:52 pm

  9. Joe, until now we only had female paradise tanagers. We recently added three males and today observed copulation for the first time! We hope they adjust to this space and produce lots of offspring. Come check them out! Eric

    Comment by rainforest — November 3, 2010 @ 2:45 pm

  10. Molla, birds are very adaptable. We cut the fruit into small pieces in hopes that they also grab some pellets for a complete diet. Wild birds will often eat from whole fruit that is cut open. Tanagers and orioles in particular enjoy oranges and bananas. Eric

    Comment by rainforest — November 3, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  11. Paradise tanagers range in the Amazon basin, east of the Andes. Countries include Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and of course Brazil. Costa Rica has lots of birds, but no paradise tanagers. Eric.

    Comment by rainforest — November 3, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  12. what are the 7 colors

    Comment by jackie lehmer — November 9, 2010 @ 4:56 am

  13. Hi People,

    I just love the Academy’s Rainforest exhibit! I’ve been to the beautiful new reincarnation of the Academy of Sciences twice now, yesterday with 18 family members! Both times I’ve been to the new Academy, the Rainforest exhibit was my favorite part! I talked with a fellow bird-lover today, and she wondered if there are any hummingirds in the Rainforest exhibit. I saw some exquisite birds and butterflies, but didn’t see any hummingbirds at the Rainforest exhibit, and I’m wondering if you have any there. I’m guessing you might not, because it might be too difficult to grow enough flowers year-round to meet the high energy needs of hummingbirds. Is that why you don’t have any hummingbirds there, or do you have them and I just didn’t see them?


    Comment by Katherine Buss — November 16, 2010 @ 12:09 am

  14. As I am not able to get to San Francisco due to physical infirmity at age 93,I am grateful to be able to be at my computer and ‘go abroad to learn something new every day. This morning I learned about another species of birds, my most favorite of all creatures in the animal world. To visit, on this day, the Academy and meet the paradise tanager, bird of seven colors, gave me great joy.Thank you for the introduction!

    Comment by Hilda White — November 16, 2010 @ 12:54 pm

  15. Hello Jackie,
    Interestingly enough, although the paradise tanager is known locally as the bird of “seven colors,” it actually only has six. They are: black, blue, violet, red, yellow and green.

    Comment by rtom — November 16, 2010 @ 5:23 pm

  16. Hello Katherine,
    We are thrilled that you love the Academy (and especially the Rainforest)! You are correct, we do not have any hummingbirds in our exhibit. We do have two female red-legged honeycreepers (Cyanerpes cyaneus) which look somewhat similar to hummingbirds. Hope this helps!

    Comment by rtom — November 16, 2010 @ 5:35 pm

  17. Hello Hilda,
    We are so pleased that our blog post about paradise tanagers brought you joy! In the next couple of days, we will be posting another blog about Suriname toads (Pipa pipa). They have a face only a mother could love and a very unique reproduction cycle. Check back soon! Also, if you have any special requests about plants or animals from Borneo, Madagascar, Costa Rica or the Amazon, let us know! We would be more than happy to incorporate what you are interested in learning about into a future blog post.

    Comment by rtom — November 16, 2010 @ 5:40 pm

  18. Hi! Thanks very much for promptly answering my question whether you have any hummingbirds at the Rainforest exhibit. You said “No,” and now I’m wondering “Why not?” I’m sure there’s a good reason. Thanks.


    Comment by Katheirne Buss — November 18, 2010 @ 7:26 pm

  19. Hi Katherine,
    We currently have no hummingbirds because they have specific husbandry requirements and are difficult to acquire (the tropical species). We do, however, have honeycreepers, which have a similar bill and also like nectar. Come check them out!

    Comment by rainforest — November 28, 2010 @ 10:52 am

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