Summer Tanager

Piranga rubra
Summer Tanager specimens on display in the exhibit "Birds of D.C."

A medium-sized (7-7 ¾ inches) songbird, the male Summer Tanager is most easily identified by its bright red body, wings, and tail. Female Scarlet Tanagers are green above and dull yellow below. Males of this species may be separated from male Scarlet Tanagers (Piranga olivacea) by that species’ black wings and tail and from male Northern Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) by that species’ black face and conspicuous crest, while females may be separated from female Scarlet Tanagers by that species’ darker back and paler breast. The Summer Tanager breeds across much of the southeastern United States north to the Mid-Atlantic region. Other populations breed in the desert southwest, California, and northern Mexico. In winter, Summer Tanagers migrate to southern Mexico, Central America, and northern South America. Summer Tanagers breed in a number of forest habitats, particularly in open woodland and forest edges. In winter, this species is found in a variety of open or shrubby habitats in humid tropical forests. Summer Tanagers mainly eat insects, particularly wasps and bees, during the breeding season, but may eat fruits and berries at other times of the year or when insects are scarce. In appropriate habitat, Summer Tanagers may be observed while flying out from perches to capture insects in the air or while robbing wasp nests for larvae. Birdwatchers may also listen for this species’ song, a series of whistled notes recalling that of the American Robin. Summer Tanagers are most active during the day, but, like many migratory songbirds, this species migrates at night.

DC Information

Fairly common summer resident from early May until the middle of September. Found in dense deciduous woods. Breeds from late May to late July. The male is red both in summer and winter; female, olive throughout the year.

Specimen Information

The female is on the upper branches; the male is below.

Distribution Map

distribution map for this species

Bird Vocalizations

Piranga rubra

Piranga rubra

Piranga rubra