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Summer Tanager Life History


Open WoodlandsSummer Tanagers breed in gaps and edges of open deciduous or pine-oak forests across the southern and mid-Atlantic U.S. In the Southwest they breed in low-elevation willow and cottonwood woodlands, and in higher-elevation mesquite and saltcedar stands. During migration, Summer Tanagers stop in habitats similar to those of their breeding range, as well as parks, gardens, and beach ridges. They spend the winter in many types of open and second-growth habitats in southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America.Back to top


InsectsSummer Tanagers specialize on bees and wasps on both their breeding and wintering ranges. They also eat other aerial and terrestrial invertebrates—such as spiders, cicadas, beetles, ants, termites, grasshoppers, flies, moths, and bugs—as well as fruits such as mulberries, blackberries, pokeweed, Cecropia, citrus, and bananas. They capture flying insects during short sallies, carrying their prey back and beating it repeatedly against the perch. They glean terrestrial insects from the leaves and bark of trees and shrubs. To harvest fruit, they may hover and pluck individual fruits, or glean from a perched position.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeThe nest is usually within a cluster of leaves or a fork of branches overhanging a road, creekbed, or treefall gap in the forest.

Nest Description

The female gathers the nest material and builds the nest by herself, though the male may accompany her as she moves back and forth. Using dried grasses and other herbaceous vegetation, she weaves a crude cup measuring about 3.5 inches across and 2 inches high on the outside, with an inner cavity about 1 inch deep and 3 inches across.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:3-4 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.9-1.0 in (2.2-2.5 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.7 in (1.6-1.8 cm)
Incubation Period:11-12 days
Nestling Period:8-12 days
Egg Description:Pale blue to pale green, with brown markings.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless and covered with yellowish gray down feathers, with eyes closed.
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Foliage GleanerAt the beginning of the breeding season, males sing and chase each other vigorously to define territorial boundaries. Each male has only one mate per breeding season. The female incubates the eggs by herself while the male forages, preens, and rests. In some breeding pairs, but not all, the male brings food to his incubating mate. However, all males seem to bring food on the day the chicks hatch, and the parents share feeding duty for the nestlings. When the young leave the nest at about 10 days old they are barely able to fly, so they take cover in vegetation and beg for food by calling periodically. Their parents feed them for at least three weeks after they fledge. Breeding tanagers are parasitized by cowbirds (which lay eggs in their nests) and aggressively chase these intruders from nesting areas. Outside of the breeding season, Summer Tanagers are usually solitary, although they sometimes follow mixed-species flocks of fruit-eating birds on their wintering grounds.Back to top


Low Concern

Summer Tanagers are fairly common and despite declines and increases in local populations, overall their populations increased slightly between 1966 and 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population at 12 million and rates them 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of low conservation concern. Populations have declined in some areas due to the rapid conversion of riverside forest to agriculture and other uses.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Robinson, W. Douglas. (2012). Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

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