by Alexandra Forsythe

“To those whose pleasure it is to live in the realm of the Summer Tanager, both he and his less brightly colored, though beautiful, mate form one of the most beautiful features of nature. He is ‘the redbird par excellence’ and in the estimation of many, the sweetest singer of the tanager family. They give one the impression that they are taking a leisurely summer vacation and have plenty of time at their disposal.” – Birds and Nature, September 1904.

The male Summer Tanager is the only completely red bird in Indiana. The male does not become that brilliant strawberry-red color until its second year; in its first year it is a mixture of red and greenish yellow. The female is typically bright yellow-green in its second year – brighter yellow on the head and underparts, and more green on the back and wings. Some females have an overall reddish wash. Both male and female have grey bills, legs and feet.

They eat bees, wasps and other insects, along with fruits like mulberries, blackberries and pokeweed. To consume the bees and wasps without getting stung, the Tanager smacks the insect against a branch and rubs the stinger off before attempting to eat the insect.

Their song is similar to the song of the American Robin but softer, sweeter and shorter. The call sounds a bit like the bird is saying, “Pick it up!”

This photo was taken at Mary Gray Bird Sanctuary at the IAS Spring Festival. Beautiful birds like this are just one more reason to attend IAS events!


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