The Neotropical Euphonia and the Chlorophonia species were formerly placed in the tanager family Thraupidae (from the 1960s until the 1990s in the Thraupinae subfamily within Emberizidae: BUNTINGS, TANAGERS, HONEYCREEPERS) due to their similar appearance and are now placed in the Euphoniinae subfamily within the Fringillidae: FINCHES, EUPHONIAS AND HAWAIIAN HONEYCREEPERS.

The European ornithologists call these birds Organists because of their soft, full-sounding whistles. Up to the 1970s, the Euphonia [‘well sounding’] species was called Tanagra [Latinized alteration of Tangara], which lead to confusion with the genus Tangara [‘dancer‘ in the extinct Tupi language] that had replaced Calospiza [‘good finch’]), and should not be muddled with Eophona [‘dawn shouting’] Oriental Grosbeaks in Carduelinae within Fringillidae.

Most Euphonias species are not good singers. They are supposed to have reached America through the Bering Strait, in response to climate cooling, and now restricted to Central and South America, like the Tanagers, which lineage dispersed in South America.

Taxonomic insights (2003)

With Euphonia and Chlorophonia placed in Thraupidae, several aspects of their biology have marked them as "weird." The complex, melodious songs of some species have been noted as superficially "goldfinch-like" and unlike that of most tanagers. The presence of pronounced vocal copying in E. violacea, E. laniirostris, and E. pectoralis is unlike any tanager but reminiscent of several fringillids. The domed nest with side entrance is unlike that of any typical tanager (though in 2002 the name dome-nesting Tanagers was suggested for the Coerebinae subfamily). The vagility of some (e.g., E. chlorotica, C. cyanea, C. flavirostris) seems unusual for tanagers but typical of fringillids, as do reports of large single-species flocks in at least one species, C. flavirostris. The near-vegetarian diet recalls that of many fringillids, and their stomach "structure" is bizarre. They feed their young by regurgitation, unlike tanagers but like many fringillids. None of these features, however, has been accorded any phylogenetic significance.

Three labs have independently shown that Euphonia does not belong in Thraupidae but clusters with Fringillidae with the results based mostly on one gene, cytochrome b.

Euphonia (and by association Chlorophonia) represents either a derived cardueline form or a basal, previously unrecognized radiation within the nine-primaried oscine clade. After the relationships of Euphonia and Chlorophonia become the subject of an investigation, a new family Euphonidae might be suggested.

Taxonomic controversy (2020)

Phylogenetic analysis found the three species of blue-hooded euphonias (Euphonia cyanocephala, elegantissima, and musica) to form a monophyletic clade sister to the 5 Chlorophonia species to the exclusion of all other euphonias (Van Remsen, 2003).

"Cyanophonia" is monophyletic and highly supported, and it is clearly diagnosable by plumage (all with ‘cyano’ hoods). Although in terms of number of changes, it seems easier to change the three Euphonia species to Chlorophonia, than to "Cyanophonia", Chlorophonia is a name that we all associate with green species (all very similar). If we move Euphonias to Chlorophonia, there will be three species of Chlorophonia that are not green (not ‘chloro’), and Chlorophonia will no longer be diagnosable based on plumage. If we resurrect Cyanophonia we don’t have to split Euphonia (as suggested, given the depth of the nodes and the consistency in plumage and vocalizations of some of the groupings uncovered). Splitting should not only be based on time of divergence and synapomorphies (a trait or character that is shared by two or more taxonomic groups and is derived through evolution from a common ancestral form). Taxonomic stability should also be considered. Although some clades in Euphonia are diagnosable by plumage and voice, splitting Euphonia would create a lot of unnecessary change and confusion, especially for those who are not taxonomists.

Putting all species in Euphonia would add too much diversity to the already diverse Euphonia, and take the divergence times too deep into history.

In conclusion, the resurrection of Cyanophonia allows for naming three phylogenetically diagnosable units (Cyanophonia, Chlorophonia, and Euphonia), having two morphologically diagnosable units (Cyanophonia and Chlorophonia), and maintaining two well-established genera (Chlorophonia and Euphonia), with minimum changes in the case of Euphonia.


Euphonias mainly feed on fruits but also insects. The Euphonia species mostly consume small mistletoe berries, of which the seeds remain enveloped in a viscous mass while they pass through the bird's stomach, so that after excretion they stick to branches and germinate.

Source: The Howard and Moore complete checklist of the birds of the world

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16 August, 2021