The Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra) is about as colorful as they come. They are one of four American Piranga species from the Cardinalidae family.
As their name suggests, these migratory songbirds visit the USA for the warmest months of the year before retreating back to more tropical climes in the winter. Would you like to know where they live and which habitats they prefer?
Summer Tanagers live in deciduous woodland habitats from California in the Southwest to New Jersey in the Northeast. Look out for these birds as they hunt stinging insects among the branches of trees from April to October each year.
Summer Tanagers live in tropical North and South America in the winter. Befitting their name, these birds live in almost perpetual summer by leaving the US in the fall. Despite the males’ conspicuous colors, Tanagers are relatively unobtrusive.
However, birdwatchers can find them by listening for the males’ song and distinctive calls, especially in the days and weeks after arriving on their breeding grounds.
Read this article to learn where Summer Tanagers live and where you might spot these colorful summer songbirds from the south!
Summer Tanagers live in deciduous woodland habitats from California in the Southwest to New Jersey in the Northeast
Summer Tanagers are New World songbirds that live in North and South America. These neotropical migrants move between the Northwest of South America and the American Midwest. They reach their southernmost limits in Bolivia and migrate as far north as Iowa.
There are at least two subspecies of Summer Tanagers. The Eastern subspecies, Piranga rubra rubra, has the widest distribution, occurring from eastern Texas to the Atlantic coast and north to the Northeast and Midwest. These birds spend the non-breeding season far to the south, from Bolivia to Southern Mexico.
The western subspecies, P. r. cooperi, has a more limited range, occurring in the American Southwest. These birds are larger, paler, and have heavier beaks than their eastern counterparts. This subspecies does not reach South America but migrates into western Mexico for the winter.
Continue reading for a more in-depth look at the Summer Tanager’s range in the United States.
Female Summer Tanagers still have a fairly bright plumage, but nothing compared the vibrant red of the males
Summer Tanagers visit the United States to breed. From about mid-April, these birds arrive and spread across the south and east of the US from southern California to Florida, and north to Pennsylvania.
The northern limit of their breeding range stretches from the Atlantic coast of New Jersey west to Nebraska and then south to Texas. In the Southwest, Summer Tanagers extend into California, through Arizona to southern Utah, and up the Rio Grande in New Mexico.
Summer Tanagers do not migrate as far as Canada. However, Scarlet Tanagers and Western Tanagers reach the east and west of Canada, respectively. The males of those species are pretty distinctive, but female Tanagers are relatively easy to confuse.
You can usually see Summer Tanagers from mid-April in the US
Summer Tanagers are primarily birds of deciduous woodlands and forest edges. They prefer fairly open habitats and are often found along the edges of wooded areas or in gaps between them. However, they are less common in fragmented and disturbed forest habitats.
In the drier west, they frequent cottonwood and willow groves that grow along river courses, and wooded areas at higher elevations.
They make use of a variety of forest and woodland habitats while overwintering in South America, from mangroves at the coast to alpine forests in Colombia.
Forest edges and deciduous woodlands are where Summer Tanagers are best spotted, as they prefer these sorts of habitat
Summer Tanagers are fairly common in the right habitats. Of course, these migratory birds are absent for half the year, so birdwatchers will only see them in the warmer months.
Despite their bright colors, Tanagers can be challenging to detect as they forage in the middle and upper canopy of trees. The female Summer Tanager is far less conspicuous than the male.
Summer Tanagers are widespread and fairly common in open deciduous woodlands. Here are some great examples of natural areas where you can find these stunning birds:
Summer Tanagers are not common backyard birds, although they will visit fruiting bushes in yards near their favorite habitats. Larger properties with plenty of deciduous trees like oaks might also attract these colorful birds.
Summer Tanager bathing in water
Summer Tanagers are active during the daylight hours, so there’s no use looking for them after dark. However, they will also rest in the heat of the day. Look out for these birds in the early morning and late afternoons when they are most active.
Summer Tanagers are a highly migratory species, which means they do not stay in the same place all year. During the summer breeding season, pairs form and remain in the vicinity of their nest for at least two months.
At least some Summer Tanagers return to the same nesting and overwintering sites in subsequent years, but this needs more study.
Summer Tanager (male) at a bird feeder, eating suet
Winter is the non-breeding season for Summer Tanagers, and most have left the USA by mid-October. Western birds fly south over dry land, but the eastern population makes the perilous journey across the Gulf of Mexico. By November, most Summer Tanagers have reached their overwintering grounds.
Summer Tanagers spend the Winter in the following countries:
Summer Tanagers know the best way to survive the winter is to escape to the tropical south. Their overwintering range extends to the north and south of the equator, where there is little difference in temperatures throughout the year.
They occupy various wooded habitats at this time of the year, from parks and gardens to mangroves and high-altitude mountain slopes.
Summer Tanagers generally specialize in eating stinging insects like wasps and bees, but they often supplement their diets with fruit during the winter.
Summer Tanager (female) at a bird bath during April, South Central Louisiana
Summer is the breeding season for Summer Tanagers. The entire population migrates north into the United States during the Spring and remains until the early fall.
The species is most widespread in the American Southeast, although they do venture into the lower Midwest and make a good living in the better-watered areas of the southwest, particularly along major drainage lines.
Summer Tanagers are generally solitary. The only time you are likely to see these birds together is when pairs form in the spring or when groups gather around food sources while on migration.
They are territorial in the United States, where adult males defend their nesting and feeding grounds. Both sexes may be territorial in the winter, although their habits in the non-breeding season require more study.
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