Piranga Rubra – Summer Tanager

Piranga rubra, commonly known as summer tanager is a medium-sized songbird native to North America. Previously classified as a member of the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified as members of the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). Similar to other members of the cardinal family, the species’ plumage and vocalizations are similar to those of the cardinal.

Quick Overview: Piranga Rubra – Summer Tanager
Body size: Around 7.5- 8 inches (19-20cm) in length with a rough weight of 28g (1oz).
Main colors: Red, Yellow, Orange
Range: Eastern United States, Introduced in Mexico, Bolivia, Brazil
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S: January, February, June, July, August, September, December Conservation Status: Least Concern

Summer tanager Description

Summer tanager has a large bill and a hefty bill. Adult males are completely red, whereas immature males are a dull yellow-olive color with blotchy patches of red on the back of their heads. Flesh coloration is variable, ranging from pale dull yellow to brighter orange in the females. Summer is similar in appearance to the female Scarlet tanager but has a longer, paler bill and less contrast between the color of the wings and the color of the body. Compare it to the Hepatic tanager, which has a dustier appearance and a stouter bill.

Male Piranga Rubra - Summer Tanager in Mexico
Male Piranga rubra – Summer tanager. Photo by: Becky Matsubara


These medium-sized songbirds are 7.5- 8in (19-20cm) in length and 28 g (1oz) to weight. Flying swiftly directly with rapid wing beats, these birds’ wingspan range is around 11-12in (28-30cm).


They are occasionally seen flying out to catch insects in flight, after which they kill them by beating them against a branch or tree trunk. The summer tanager removes the stinger from a bee before consuming it by rubbing it against a branch.


Despite the fact that these birds prefer open oak, hickory, and mixed oak-pine woodlands, they can be found in parks, orchards, and along roadside edges as well.


Hovering at leaf clusters and gathering food from the tops of trees are some of the methods used by this bird of prey to forage.

Female Piranga Rubra - Summer Tanager finding something to eat
Female Piranga rubra – Summer tanager. Source: Wikipedia

Piranga rubra Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Cardinalidae
  • Genus: Piranga
  • Species: Piranga rubra


 There are two (2) recognized subspecies of summer tanagers namely P.r cooperi that have paler plumage, this subspecies is commonly found in the western part of the United States. P.r. rubra is one of the two subspecies as well which has shorter wings, tails, and legs and breeds primarily in the eastern part of the United States.

Best time of the year to see

If The best time to see these birds in the United States is during summer (June to September) and winter (December to February).

Other common names

A variety of other common names for summer tanagers include bee birds, calico warblers, and crimson tanagers.

Distribution of the Summer tanager in the USA

Summer tanagers breed throughout the eastern United States, south of southern Pennsylvania and northern Illinois, as well as in the southwestern United States and northern Mexico, according to the National Wildlife Federation. They spend their winters from central Mexico to northern South America, and even as far south as Bolivia and Brazil, depending on the season.

During summer months, you can observe this Piranga rubra – Summer tanager in these places in the United States: Alabama, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maine, New Hampshire, New Jersey, Vermont, New York, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina.

Piranga Rubra – Summer Tanager

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