Summer tanager

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Summer tanager
Scientific classification Edit this classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Cardinalidae
Genus: Piranga
P. rubra
Binomial name
Piranga rubra
  Summer breeding range
  Winter non-breeding range
  • Fringilla rubra Linnaeus, 1758
  • Tanagra rubra Linnaeus, 1766
  • Pyranga aestiva Vieillot

The summer tanager (Piranga rubra) is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae).[2] The species's plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.


The summer tanager was formally described by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus in 1758 in the tenth edition of his Systema Naturae under the binomial name Fringilla rubra.[3] Linnaeus based his description on the "summer red-bird" described and illustrated by Mark Catesby in his The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands which was published in 1729–1732.[4] Catesby gave the location as Carolina, Linnaeus specified America; the type location is now South Carolina.[5] The summer tanager is the type species of the genus Piranga that was introduced by the French ornithologist Louis Jean Pierre Vieillot in 1808.[6][7] The genus name Piranga is from Tupi Tijepiranga, the name for an unknown small bird; the specific rubra is from Latin ruber meaning "red".[8]

Two subspecies are recognised:[7]

  • P. r. cooperi Ridgway, 1869 – breeds in southwest USA and north Mexico, winters in south Mexico
  • P. r. rubra (Linnaeus, 1758) – breeds in east USA, winters in Central and North South America


Adults have stout pointed bills and measure 17 cm (6.7 in) in length and 29 g (1.0 oz) in weight.[9][10] Wingspan ranges from 28 to 30 cm.[11] Adult males are rose red and similar in appearance to the hepatic tanager, although the latter has a dark bill; females are orangish on the underparts and olive on top, with olive-brown wings and tail. As with all other birds, all red and orange colorations are acquired through their diet.

The summer tanager has an American robin-like song, similar enough that novices sometimes mistake this bird for that species. The song consists of melodic units, repeated in a constant stream. The summer tanager's song, however, is much more monotonous than that of T. migratorius, often consisting of as few as three or four distinct units. It is clearer and less nasal than the song of the scarlet tanager. The summer tanager also has a sharp, agitated-sounded call pi-tuk or pik-i-tuk-i-tuk.[12]

Distribution and habitat[edit]

Their breeding habitat is open wooded areas, especially with oaks, across the southern United States, extending as far north as Iowa. These birds migrate to Mexico, Central America and northern South America. This tanager is an extremely rare vagrant to western Europe.

Behaviour and ecology[edit]

These birds are often out of sight, foraging high in trees, sometimes flying out to catch insects in flight. They mainly eat insects, especially bees and wasps, and berries. Fruit of Cymbopetalum mayanum (Annonaceae) are an especially well-liked food in their winter quarters and birds will forage in human-altered habitat.[13] Consequently, these trees can be planted to entice them to residential areas, and they may well be attracted to bird feeders. Summer tanagers build a cup nest on a horizontal tree branch.


  1. ^ BirdLife International (2016). "Piranga rubra". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. 2016: e.T22722456A94767173. doi:10.2305/IUCN.UK.2016-3.RLTS.T22722456A94767173.en. Retrieved 11 November 2021.
  2. ^ Remsen, J.V., Jr., C.D. Cadena, A. Jaramillo, M. Nores, J.F. Pacheco, M.B. Robbins, T.S. Schulenberg, F.G. Stiles, D.F. Stotz, and K.J. Zimmer. (2009-04-02). A classification of the bird species of South America. American Ornithologists' Union.Archived 2009-03-02 at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ Linnaeus, Carl (1758). Systema Naturae per regna tria naturae, secundum classes, ordines, genera, species, cum characteribus, differentiis, synonymis, locis (in Latin). Vol. 1 (10th ed.). Holmiae (Stockholm): Laurentii Salvii. p. 181.
  4. ^ Catesby, Mark (1729–1732). The Natural History of Carolina, Florida and the Bahama Islands (in English and French). Vol. 1. London: W. Innys and R. Manby. p. 56, Plate 56.
  5. ^ Paynter, Raymond A. Jr, ed. (1970). Check-List of Birds of the World. Vol. 13. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Museum of Comparative Zoology. p. 306.
  6. ^ Vieillot, Louis Jean Pierre (1807). Histoire naturelle des oiseaux de l'Amérique Septentrionale : contenant un grand nombre d'espèces décrites ou figurées pour la première fois (in French). Vol. 1. Paris: Chez Desray. p. iv. For a discussion of the publication date see: Dickinson, E.C.; Overstreet, L.K.; Dowsett, R.J.; Bruce, M.D. (2011). Priority! The Dating of Scientific Names in Ornithology: a Directory to the literature and its reviewers. Northampton, UK: Aves Press. p. 157. ISBN 978-0-9568611-1-5.
  7. ^ a b Gill, Frank; Donsker, David; Rasmussen, Pamela, eds. (2020). "Cardinals, grosbeaks and (tanager) allies". IOC World Bird List Version 10.2. International Ornithologists' Union. Retrieved 1 October 2020.
  8. ^ Jobling, James A. (2010). The Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names. London, United Kingdom: Christopher Helm. pp. 308, 340. ISBN 978-1-4081-2501-4.
  9. ^ history "Summer Tanager Life History, All About Birds, Cornell Lab of Ornithology". {{cite web}}: Check |url= value (help)
  10. ^ CRC Handbook of Avian Body Masses (1992). by John B. Dunning Jr. (Editor). CRC Press, ISBN 978-0-8493-4258-5.
  11. ^ "Tangara vermillon - Piranga rubra - Summer Tanager". Retrieved 2020-09-30.
  12. ^ Peterson, Roger Tory & Peterson, Virginia Marie (2002): Field Guide to the Birds of Eastern and Central North America (5th ed.). Houghton Mifflin, Boston. ISBN 0-395-74046-0
  13. ^ Foster, Mercedes S. (2007). The potential of fruiting trees to enhance converted habitats for migrating birds in southern Mexico. Bird Conservation International 17(1): 45-61. doi:10.1017/S0959270906000554 PDF fulltext

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