Common Name

Scientific Name

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Photo by Robert T. Maytum
Photo Courtesy of Robert T. Maytum

The summer tanager, Piranga rubra, is a neotropical migrant that breeds in the southwestern and southeastern United States. It winters in Mexico, Central America, and South America. The western subspecies (P. r. cooperi) breeds in riparian woodlands; at higher elevations, it breeds in mesquite and salt cedar forests. It is an uncommon breeder along stream sides in the southeastern corner of Utah.

The summer tanager specializes in eating bees and wasps. The tanager captures a stinging insect during flight, and then carries it to a perch where the tanager kills it by slamming it against a branch. Then, the tanager wipes the insect along the branch to remove the stinger. Summer tanagers also prey on larval bees and wasps. They kill the adults or harass them until they leave the nest, and then help themselves to the young. In addition to bees and wasps, summer tanagers also eat fruits and a variety of insects.

Breeding pairs form shortly after birds arrive on the breeding grounds. The female constructs a cup nest using dry vegetation, and then she incubates three or four eggs for about twelve days. The male will sometimes bring food to the incubating female. Both sexes feed the young in the nest. After about ten days, the hatchlings leave the nest, but they continue to be fed by their parents for another three weeks. It takes about ten days after leaving the nest before the young can fly proficiently.


  • Behle, W. H., Sorensen, E. D. and C. M. White. 1985. Utah birds: a revised checklist. Utah Museum of Natural History, Occasional Publication No. 4. Salt Lake City, UT.

  • Robinson, W. D. 1996. Summer Tanager (Piranga rubra). Birds of North America 248.