- White-shouldered Tanager
 - White-shouldered Tanager
 - White-shouldered Tanager
 - White-shouldered Tanager

White-shouldered Tanager Tachyphonus luctuosus Scientific name definitions

Steven Hilty
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated January 1, 2011

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Editor's Note: This is a shorter format account, originally published in HBW Alive. Please consider contributing your expertise to update and expand this account.

White-shouldered Tanager is fairly common throughout most of its large range. They occur in humid forest of the lowlands and foothills, where they can be found in borders, open woodland, and interior forest. Pairs or family groups frequently join mixed foraging flocks. Most commonly, they are found foraging at the midlevels, but they also frequent the subcanopy and lower growth. They glean and flutter for insects and small fruit. Males are jet black with obvious white shoulders, whereas females have an olive-green back, yellow belly, gray head, and whitish throat. Their calls are a constant though easily overlooked series of short, high, rising notes.

The scientific name Tachyphonus luctuosus comes from the Greek takhus which means fast and phonos which mean speaking, and luctuosus which means mournful, from lugere to mourn (Jobling 2010). The common name in Spanish is Tangara Luctuosa (Hilty 2011, de Juana et al 2012)


13–14 cm; 11·5–15 g. Thin-billed tanager. Male nominate race is almost entirely glossy black, with conspicuous white patch on shoulder (marginal, lesser and median upperwing-coverts white), and white underwing-coverts; iris dark brown; bill blackish, basal half of lower mandible slightly paler; legs dark grey. Female is very different, has grey head, bright olive-green upperparts, including wing-coverts, greyish-white throat, and yellow underparts often tinged olive on breast; looks very like a smaller, uncrested version of Eucometis penicillata. Juvenile like adult female but much duller and more uniform; immature male progressively more like adult, older males darker, latterly showing patches of black, especially on head, mantle, wings and underparts, and white on shoulders. Race nitidissima male has concealed yellow crown patch, white shoulder patch larger than on nominate, female is mainly olive above with grey tinge on crown, and has whitish throat and yellow underparts, and both sexes have base of lower mandible much paler, greyish-flesh; axillaris male has semi-concealed orange-and-cinnamon crown patch, shoulder patch larger than on nominate, female is like previous but with buff throat, and bill all dark; panamensis male has white shoulder patch larger than other races, female is brighter, more olive-green, above than nominate and has whiter chin and throat and brighter yellow underparts; flaviventris has small white shoulder patch (same size as on nominate), differs from nominate in slightly longer bill and wing.

Systematics History

Editor's Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

Race nitidissima distinctive, differing in its yellow to dull orange central crown in male (3); greyish vs dark irides (1); white vs pale bluish-grey panel on lower mandible (1); slightly larger size (based on published evidence (1); allow 1); but seemingly not in voice, although more research desirable. Five subspecies recognized.



Tachyphonus luctuosus axillaris Scientific name definitions

Caribbean coast from N and E Honduras S to NW Panama (Bocas del Toro).


Tachyphonus luctuosus nitidissimus Scientific name definitions

Pacific coast of Costa Rica (San José) S to Panama (W Chiriquí).


Tachyphonus luctuosus panamensis Scientific name definitions

C Panama (from Coclé) E on both slopes to N Colombia and W Venezuela (Maracaibo region), and S on Pacific coast to W Ecuador and extreme NW Peru.


Tachyphonus luctuosus luctuosus Scientific name definitions

E base of Andes from Venezuela (Barinas) S to N and C Bolivia, and generally from SE Colombia, S and E Venezuela (S of R Orinoco, and in Delta Amacuro and Monagas), the Guianas and Amazonian Brazil E to W Maranhão, S to Mato Grosso and W Goiás).


Tachyphonus luctuosus flaviventris Scientific name definitions

extreme NE Venezuela (Sucre) and Trinidad.


Editor's Note: Additional distribution information for this taxon can be found in the 'Subspecies' article above. In the future we will develop a range-wide distribution article.


In Central America and W & N of Andes found most often in tall older second growth and along forest borders; in Amazonia confined more to humid terra firme and várzea forest, where occurs in dense foliage and vine tangles above treefalls and at small openings in forest, also forest borders and older second growth. Recorded also in plantations in Colombia. To 1100 m in S Venezuela; c. 1000 m, rarely to 2200 m, in Colombia; mostly below 800 m, with small numbers as high as 1300 m, in Ecuador; up to c. 1000 m in Peru.


Apparently resident.

Diet and Foraging

Insects, also small amounts of fruit. Of three stomachs examined, one contained only vegetable matter and two only animal matter, including spiders (Araneae), termite workers (Isoptera), grasshoppers (Caelifera), beetles (Coleoptera). Other items recorded included a lepidopteran, an orthopteran, and a mantis (Mantodea). Of 223 observations of feeding, only 12% involved fruit; fruit items noted in Panama included Miconia species, Zanthoxylum, Xylopia and Lindackeria. Trinidad data suggest larger proportion of fruit (29%) in diet. Pairs or families are normally core members of mixed-species flocks, foraging from lower midddle levels to subcanopy; pairs may travel and forage alternately with understorey or canopy mixed flocks. A very active, energetic species notable for its fondness for middle-storey forest vine tangles. Mostly hops or flits short distances in foliage and vines, and actively snatches insect prey from upper leaf surfaces by lunges, flutter-chases or short sallies. In Panama, almost half of 75 foraging records were between 9·5 m and 15 m up, and a further 35% were higher; 75% of foraging sites were tops of leaves, majority involving acrobatics such as lunges, leaps and sallies in outer foliage. Trinidad data suggest a lower range of foraging heights, mostly 3–15 m, and a larger proportion of fruit taken. In threat display to competitors, male puffs up shoulder feathers in bold display of white.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Song a thin, high “seet-seet-seet” (sometimes 4 or more notes), 2 notes per second, sometimes in series mixed with “seet” or “quick seet-seet” notes; rather weak and easily overlooked. Rather insignificant calls include high-pitched, sharp, almost hissing “tseer”; in Peru, weak call notes “swee” and lower “chep”.


Following details from Trinidad. Breeding recorded in Apr, Jun and Sept; nest a deep open cup of dry grass, lined with fine fibres, placed 1–1·5 m up in undergrowth; clutch 3 eggs, rich buff to pale cream, blotched reddish-brown. No other information.
Not globally threatened. Widespread and common to locally common. E of Andes found in many protected parks and reserves, including Voltzberg National Park (Suriname), Iwokrama Wilderness Reserve (Guyana), Canaima National Park (Venezuela), and Cahuinarí, Chiribiquete and Amacayacu National Parks (Colombia), also Cuyabeno Faunistic Reserve and Yasuní National Park (Ecuador) and Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve and Manu Biosphere Reserve (Peru); occurs also in numerous private reserves around eco-lodges, e.g. Napo Wildlife Centre, in Ecuador, and Explorama and Explornapo Lodges, near Iquitos, in Peru. Its range encompasses large areas of intact forest not formally protected, but at low risk of deforestation in immediate future, ensuring viability of this species at least in short term. Populations in Central America (primarily Caribbean slope) and W of Andes in Colombia and Ecuador also occur in numerous national parks and public and private reserves; as a result of widespread deforestation in unprotected areas within these regions, however, these populations have suffered local habitat contractions and range fragmentation and have almost entirely disappeared from some former areas. So long as parks and reserves are maintained, these W populations are considered unlikely to become at risk.
Distribution of the White-shouldered Tanager
  • Year-round
  • Migration
  • Breeding
  • Non-Breeding
Distribution of the White-shouldered Tanager

Recommended Citation

Hilty, S. (2020). White-shouldered Tanager (Tachyphonus luctuosus), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (J. del Hoyo, A. Elliott, J. Sargatal, D. A. Christie, and E. de Juana, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.whstan1.01