Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

Summer Tanager

[order] PASSERIFORMES | [family] Thraupidae | [latin] Piranga rubra | [UK] Summer Tanager | [FR] Piranga vermillon | [DE] Sommertangare | [ES] | [NL] Zomertangare


Genus Species subspecies Breeding Range Breeding Range 2 Non Breeding Range
Piranga rubra NA, MA s USA, n Mexico Amazonia, Bolivia
Piranga rubra cooperi
Piranga rubra rubra

Physical charateristics

Close in size to Corn Bunting but with form also recalling oriole Oriolus, particularly in long, pointed but swollen-looking bill; averages slightly longer-billed and longer-tailed than Scarlet Tanager. Quite large, tree-haunting passerine, with long, heavy bill, bulky, peaked head, plump oval body, and lengthy wings but relatively rather short tail. Adult male red except for browner wings and tail, recalling male crossbill; adult female yellowish-olive above, strongly yellow below, like brightest male Greenfinch. Juvenile and 1st winter much as female but young male in 1st summer partially red.

Listen to the sound of Summer Tanager

[audio: Tanager.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

wingspan min.: 27 cm wingspan max.: 30 cm
size min.: 16 cm size max.: 17 cm
incubation min.: 12 days incubation max.: 13 days
fledging min.: 8 days fledging max.: 13 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 3  
      eggs max.: 4  


North America, Middle America : South USA, North Mexico


Breeds in warm temperate Nearctic lowlands, especially in tall open woods with scrubby oak undergrowth, such as drier pine and hickory, feeding and singing in treetops, but also tolerating fairly young second growth. Winters in tropical America in both woody and open situations including coastal mangroves, second growth, low open forest (including edges and clearings), coffee plantations, and scrubby grassland.


Nest building begins 2 to 4 weeks after the birds arrive on the breeding grounds in spring. The nest is usually built out on a horizontal branch about 2.5 to 10.5 m from the ground. The female builds the nest alone, though she is often accompanied by the male while searching for a site and suitable nest-building materials. The nest is constructed primarily of dried herbaceous vegetation, and lined with fine grasses. There seems to be some regional variation in the quality of summer tanager nests; birds in the eastern range usually build flimsy and ragged nests, while the nests of summer tanagers in the western part of the range are sturdy and well-constructed.

Egg-laying begins immediately after the nest is completed. The female lays 3 to 4 eggs that are smooth and somewhat glossy, pale blue or pale green, and spotted reddish brown. Incubation is carried out by the female only and lasts 12 to 13 days. During this time, the male spends a lot of time resting and caring for his feathers. In some pairs, however, the male feeds the incubating female, who may beg him for food. The chicks are fed by both parents after hatching, though males may do so indirectly by first giving the food to the female, who then gives it to the chicks. The young are fed primarily whole food, though some regurgitated food is also given. After 8 to 10 days, the young leave the nest, and by day 10, they are can make short, fluttery flights. The adults attend the young for 2 to 4 weeks after fledging.

Feeding habits

Summer tanagers are primarily insectivorous, eating a wide variety of flying and non-flying insects, such as beetles (order Coleoptera), dragonflies (suborder Anisoptera), grubs, cicadas (family Cicadidae), grasshoppers, ants (family Formicidae), caterpillars, weevils and spiders (order Araneae). They also eat fruits such as blackberries, whortleberries, mulberries, pokeweed, citrus and bananas, especially during the late breeding season, migration and on the winter range. However, the primary components of summer tanagers’ diets are bees (superfamily Apoidea) and wasps. They frequently attack wasp nests until the wasps abandon their nest, leaving the larvae for the tanager to devour. Summer tanagers occasionally capture food on the ground, but forage primarily in the tops of trees, where adult bees and wasps are caught in flight. Once prey has been caught, tanagers take the insect back to a perch and beat it against the perch until it dies. By wiping wasps on a branch before eating them, tanagers removes the stingers and other inedible body parts.


This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Summer Tanager status Least Concern


Short-range migrant. Winters from south-central Mexico south through Central America to eastern Peru, northern Bolivia, Amazonian Brazil, and Guianas. Eastern birds cross Gulf of Mexico to Central America, whereas western birds move overland through Mexico. Tends to overshoot eastern range in April, and especially in May, when recorded almost annually from New York to Nova Scotia; autumn vagrancy there is less frequent, but extends further, to St Pierre-et-Miquelon (off Newfoundland).

Distribution map

Summer Tanager distribution range map

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