Photo: Brian E. Small/Vireo

Summer Tanager

Piranga rubra

A languid song in southern woods, sounding like a lazy robin, is the voice of the Summer Tanager. Seeing the bird may require some patience, because it usually moves rather slowly in the treetops, often remaining hidden among the leaves. At times, however, it flies out conspicuously to catch flying insects in mid-air. This bird apparently has no fear of stinging insects, often raiding wasp nests and occasionally becoming a minor nuisance around beehives.
Conservation status Numbers have declined sharply along the lower Colorado River and in a few other localities. Still remains common and widespread in other areas.
Family Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
Habitat Woods, groves (especially oaks). In the Southeast, breeds in dry open woods, especially those of oak, hickory, or pine. In the Southwest, breeds in cottonwood-willow forests along streams. Winters in the tropics, mainly in lowlands but also up to middle elevations in mountains, both in solid forest and in edges and clearings with scattered trees.
A languid song in southern woods, sounding like a lazy robin, is the voice of the Summer Tanager. Seeing the bird may require some patience, because it usually moves rather slowly in the treetops, often remaining hidden among the leaves. At times, however, it flies out conspicuously to catch flying insects in mid-air. This bird apparently has no fear of stinging insects, often raiding wasp nests and occasionally becoming a minor nuisance around beehives.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male, Eastern
  • adult female, Eastern
  • immature male (1st breeding)
  • immature male (1st breeding)
  • adult male, Western
  • adult female, Western
  • adult male, Eastern
  • adult female, Eastern
Feeding Behavior

Forages mainly in the tops of trees. Moves rather deliberately, pausing to peer around. Often makes short flights to capture flying insects in mid-air, or hovers momentarily while picking them from branches or foliage. Will break into wasp nests to eat the larvae inside.


Eggs

3-5, typically 4. Pale green or blue-green, with brown and gray spots sometimes concentrated at larger end. Incubation is apparently by female only, 11-12 days. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Age at which young leave the nest is not well known.

Diet

Mostly insects, some berries. Diet in summer is mainly insects; often noted feeding on bees and wasps, and also eats many beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, and grasshoppers, plus bugs, flies, and others; also eats some spiders. Feeds on berries and small fruits at times.


Nesting

Male sings in spring to defend nesting territory. In early stages of courtship, male frequently chases female. Nest site is in a tree, often an oak, pine, or cottonwood. Placed on a horizontal branch, usually well out from trunk and 10-35' above the ground. Nest is a loosely made shallow cup of grass, weed stems, bark strips, leaves, spiderwebs, Spanish moss (where available), lined with fine grass. Apparently built only by female, although male accompanies her during nest building.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

The wintering range is surprisingly extensive, from central Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil. Migrates north and south on a broad front, with some crossing Gulf of Mexico and others traveling overland.

Download Our Bird Guide App

Migration

The wintering range is surprisingly extensive, from central Mexico to Bolivia and Brazil. Migrates north and south on a broad front, with some crossing Gulf of Mexico and others traveling overland.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Song like an American Robin's, but softer and sweeter. Distinctive rattling chick-tucky-tuck.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.

Explore Similar Birds