The most widespread tanager in the continental United States, the summer tanager is also one of the most brilliant with its fiery red plumage, perfect for any bird named "summer."
- Bill: Large, thick, pale yellow
- Size: 8 inches long with 11-12-inch wingspan, slender build
- Colors: Red, black, yellow, olive, gray
- Markings: Dimorphic species. Males are bright red overall with black primary flight feathers and a faint gray wash on the wings and tail tip. Legs and feet are dark. Females are yellow or yellow-orange overall with a darker olive tinge on the upperparts, as well as the same black wingtips and tail tip. First spring males have splotchy yellow and red plumage.
Habitat and Migration:
The summer tanager is widespread through the southern United States in the summer months, from the Ohio River Valley to southern Iowa, eastern Kansas and Oklahoma, central Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona and southeastern California, as well as northern central Mexico. The species' winter range includes central Mexico south to the northern portion of South America as far as Peru, as well as the Caribbean. These birds prefer moist deciduous, particularly oak, forests and riparian areas.
Summer tanagers have a sweet warbling whistle that lasts 15-30 syllables and is often repeated. A buzz or rasp may be heard at the end of the song. The typical call is a rapid "pic-pic-pic-a-tik" with slight changes in pitch.
These are solitary birds but may be found in pairs during the breeding season. They forage in the middle and upper levels of trees, catching wasps and bees and removing the stingers before eating them. When agitated, summer tanagers may raise their head feathers into a slight crest.
These are monogamous birds that can raise 1-2 broods of 3-5 eggs each annually. The female parent incubates the eggs for 11-12 days, and both parents will feed the altricial young for 13-14 days until they are mature enough to leave the nest.
Attracting Summer Tanagers:
Fairly shy, these are not common backyard birds but they will visit feeders offering a peanut butter and cornmeal mix. Bird-friendly landscaping should include oak trees and a water source, and backyard birders should avoid trapping or spraying for the bees and wasps these birds eat.