Summer Tanager (Photo: Bill Thompson, III)

Summer Tanager

Look For

This trim and elegant neotropical migrant is sometimes called the “summer redbird” to distinguish it from the South’s other “redbird,” the familiar cardinal. It is shy and deliberate in its movements and, for such a colorful bird, can be surprisingly difficult to find.

Only the male summer tanager is red; the female is olive-backed with yellow-orange underparts. The male can be differentiated from the male cardinal by its more slender bill shape and lack of a crest on its head; it can be distinguished from a male scarlet tanager by its red (not black) wings and tail.

Unlike the male scarlet tanager, the male summer tanager retains its red coloration throughout the year. The summer tanager is 7 ½ to 8 inches in length.

Listen for

The Summer Tanager sings a rich, warbling song that is similar in phrasing to a robin’s. Its call is an explosive perky-tuck-tuck!

Find it

The summer tanager arrives on its U.S. breeding grounds sometime in April and departs, as a rule, by mid-fall. During migration the species covers a wide front; many birds fly nonstop across the Gulf of Mexico on their journeys north and south. Its preferred habitat is dry, open woods of oak, hickory, or pine, but many nest in wooded residential neighborhoods, as well.

Feed it

Summer tanagers are insect-eaters, and they are noted for their fearless predation on wasps, bees, and other stinging creatures. Beetles, caterpillars, cicadas, flies, and other insects are also taken, and in summer small fruits are eaten. Summer tanagers normally creep along tree branches scanning for insects, but they can also hover to glean insects from hanging leaves or capture flying insects with short flights from a perch.

Nesting Behavior

The nest of a summer tanager is a rather shallow, flimsy cup of weed stems, leaves, and fine grasses, built by the female on a horizontal branch well away from the tree trunk. The usual clutch of eggs is four, incubated by the female for 12 days. Both parents feed the nestlings until they leave the nest at about two weeks of age.

WOW!

One of the folk names for this species is Beebird, for its habit of eating bees and wasps. Its long stout bill is an ideal tool for capturing and subduing these stinging insects.

3 thoughts on “Summer Tanager”

  1. Have a bird coming to my humming bird feeder that’s body is burnt orange with black bib. only information I can find is Texas Target Bird. I am thinking it may be a warbler, but not sure.

    1. That sounds like a Bullock’s Oriole or a Hooded Oriole. They are gorgeous birds! Since they drink nectar, they frequent hummingbird feeders. They also love jelly (grape or blackberry seems to be a favorite). We have a family of Hooded Orioles that return every year to nest in the super-tall palm trees next door. They must have spread the word about the plentiful jelly and nectar, because this year we also have a family of Bullock’s Orioles! Both types come to the jelly and the nectar every day. If you make a jelly feeder with a little jar or container suspended from wire, they will love it!

    2. It sounds like you’re describing a Bullock’s Oriole or a Hooded Oriole. They are gorgeous birds! Since they drink nectar, they frequent hummingbird feeders. They also love jelly (grape or blackberry seems to be a favorite). We have a family of Hooded Orioles that return every year to nest in the super-tall palm trees next door. They must have spread the word about the plentiful jelly and nectar, because this year we also have a family of Bullock’s Orioles! Both types come to the jelly and the nectar every day. If you make a jelly feeder with a little jar or container suspended from wire, they will love it!

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