Photos and article by Kathryn Mann
Male Summer Tanager in Oklahoma forest
During my regular walks through oak forests in northeast Oklahoma I see many varieties of birds, but the most stunning and only totally red bird in North America is more often heard than seen. This bird is the Summer Tanager, and the adult male is one of the most stunning birds to see up-close. It also has one of the most memorable songs of any songbird.
Female Summer Tanager high up in an Oak tree
At a distance, which is unfortunately as close as I usually get to one, the male Summer Tanager can be mistaken for a Northern Cardinal which are abundant in my area. (Cardinals are not totally red, as they have a black face.) These birds spend most of their time high up in the top canopy of trees in rather dense forested areas. Their primary diet is wasps and bees which they catch in midair.
Juvenile Summer Tanager
While the male Summer Tanager is a beautiful red-rose color, the female is olive green on the top side and yellow underneath. They are both about 7 inches long. Besides enjoying flying insects they also eat blackberries and mulberries, and I have even seen a few in my mulberry tree
Two of favorite birds are the Indigo Bunting and the male Summer Tanager. I recently was lucky enough to find two of them playing together.
Most Summer Tanagers spend their winters in Panama and add several ounces to their usual 11 ounce weight before they begin their trip there.