The habits of the Hepatic Tanager are similar to those of the Western Tanager.
It is larger and stockier than other tanagers and has a relatively short tail and a stout bill. Its brightest color is always on its forehead and throat. In all plumages, it has grey flanks, dusky cheeks, and a dark eye streak. The female is yellow, and the male is red. Its average weight is 1.3 oz (38 g). Its average wingspan is 12.5 in (31.8 cm) and length 8 inches (20.3 cm).
Its call is a low, dry chup like the Hermit Thrush. Its song is clearer than Thraupidae tanagers and far more similar to the song of the Black-headed Grosbeak, another member of the Cardinalidae. The flight call is a husky and rising weet.