Beak of the Week – Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra)

Family: Cardinalidae

Summer Tanagers are medium-sized, chunky songbirds with big bodies and large heads. They have large, thick, blunt-tipped bills. The strawberry-colored male Summer Tanager is the only completely red bird in North America. Adult females have olive-green upperparts and mustard yellow underparts. First spring males may have varying patches of yellow and red.

A Summer Tanager’s diet consists of primarily bees and wasps, but they also eat invertebrates such as spiders, ants, grasshoppers, and other bugs. They can consume bees and wasps without getting stung by scraping their prey on a branch first to remove the stinger. They catch flying insects on the wing and kill them by beating them against a branch or perch. Summer Tanagers will also break into wasp nests to eat the larvae inside.

Observing Summer Tanagers can be challenging as they typically move rather slowly in the treetops, often remaining hidden among the leaves. Listen for these birds in forested areas. Both sexes have a very distinctive chuckling pit-ti-tuck call note. Hear their calls here.

Greg Lavaty
Greg Lavaty
 Visit our Bird Gallery to read about other Texas birds! 

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