Living Bird Magazine
Summer TanagerPiranga rubra
- ORDER: Passeriformes
- FAMILY: Cardinalidae
The only completely red bird in North America, the strawberry-colored male Summer Tanager is an eye-catching sight against the green leaves of the forest canopy. The mustard-yellow female is harder to spot, though both sexes have a very distinctive chuckling call note. Fairly common during the summer, these birds migrate as far as the middle of South America each winter. All year long they specialize in catching bees and wasps on the wing, somehow avoiding being stung by their catches.More ID Info
Find This Bird
For such a bright-red bird, Summer Tanagers can be hard to see in the tops of leafy green trees. As with many forest songbirds, the best way to find them is to listen, both for the robin-like song and for their very distinctive, muttering pit-ti-tuck call note. Look for them in open woodlands (particularly of oaks and other deciduous trees) where they are usually in the mid-canopy and above.
- Piranga Roja (Spanish)
- Piranga vermillon (French)
Although Summer Tanagers mostly eat bees and wasps, they may also forage on backyard berry bushes and fruit trees near their forest habitat.
- Cool Facts
- The Summer Tanager is a bee and wasp specialist. It catches these insects in flight and kills them by beating them against a branch. Before eating a bee, the tanager rubs it on the branch to remove the stinger. Summer Tanagers eat larvae, too: first they get rid of the adults, and then they tear open the nest to get the grubs.
- Like most birds that migrate long distances, the Summer Tanager puts on large fat deposits to fuel its long flight. In one study, tanagers arriving in Panama had enough fat to fly an estimated additional 890 km (553 mi).
- Summer Tanagers are closely related to several other North American birds in the genus Piranga, including Scarlet and Western tanagers. Taxonomists used to place this genus in the same family as the true tanagers, but they now consider Summer Tanagers and their relatives to be part of the cardinal family instead.
- In places where both Summer and Scarlet tanagers live, the Summer Tanager breeds in shorter and more open woodlands. In the West, Western and Hepatic tanagers use coniferous forests at higher elevations, while Summer Tanagers breed in lowlands along streams.
- The oldest Summer Tanager on record was a male, and at least 7 years, 11 months old when he was recaptured and rereleased during banding operations in Texas in 1986.