Summer Tanagers: Totally Red

By Dave Hanks

This is the only completely red bird in North America. Its plumage is a brilliant, fiery red. The Summer Tanager is a species of southern forests and is considered a bee and wasp specialist. It catches its prey in flight and then kills by rubbing the catch against a branch. Before eating, it will remove the stinger. Besides bees and wasps, larvae are also eaten. This diet is followed in the USA, and in Central and South America during our winter months.

There is another red bird that could be confused with the Summer Tanager. It is the Hepatic Tanager. However, the Hepatic male is a duller red and has dark wings, tail, and face patch. The females of both species are a dull yellow. Male song birds are the ones that do most of the singing, but the female Summer Tanager will sing a brief, garbled version of the maleís cheery song. When agitated both genders give a loud clicking call. Because this bird will build its nest high up in a tall tree, there are few studies of its nesting behavior.

Where other tanager species overlap the Summerís range, the Summer will nest at lower elevations, in shorter woodlands, close to a stream. This long distance migratory bird must put on large amounts of fat, which allows for continuous flights of up to 550 miles.

Our experiences with this beautiful bird have been in Texas. First in west Texas in the Fort Davis Mountains, where Iíve sat in my blind for long periods in order to get a shot, and also on South Padre Island off the southern tip of the state.

(The bird that loves the bees)