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    Summer Tanager Life History

    Habitat

    Habitat 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

    Food

    Food 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

    Nesting

    Nest Placement

    Nest 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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    Behavior

    Behavior 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

    Conservation

    Conservation Low ConcernSummer Tanagers are fairly common and despite declines and increases in local populations, overall their populations were stable between 1966 and 2014, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates their global breeding population at 12 million, with 83% spending part of the year in the U.S., and 17% in Mexico. The species rates a 9 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score. Summer Tanager is not on the 2014 State of the Birds Watch List. Populations have declined in areas due to the rapid conversion of riverside forest to agriculture and other uses. Back to top

    Backyard Tips

    Although Summer Tanagers mostly eat bees and wasps, they may also forage on backyard berry bushes and fruit trees near their forest habitat.

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    Credits

    Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2015.2. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2015.

    North American Bird Conservation Initiative. 2014. The State of the Birds 2014 Report. US Department of Interior, Washington, DC, USA.

    Partners in Flight. 2017. Avian Conservation Assessment Database. 2017.

    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., J. E. Hines, J. E. Fallon, K. L. Pardieck, Jr. Ziolkowski, D. J. and W. A. Link. The North American Breeding Bird Survey, results and analysis 1966-2013 (Version 1.30.15). USGS Patuxtent Wildlife Research Center 2014b. Available from http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/.

    Sibley, David Allen. 2014. The Sibley guide to birds, second edition. Alfred A Knopf, New York.

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