By Skeeter & Marolyn Lasuzzo
On April 16th we photographed our first Summer Tanager of the season. We had been hearing its song for a few days, but had not visually observed one until the 16th. One of the many exciting things that come to Texas and Hagerman Wildlife Refuge in the spring is the colorful spring songbirds. The Summer Tanager is just one of our favorite four birds of spring. The Painted Bunting, Yellow Warbler, Indigo Bunting, along with the Summer Tanager are our most sought after birds to see and photograph during spring and summer.
The male Summer Tanager is all red, the only all red bird in North America. The female is a light yellow to olive green. The immature first spring male is a combination of bright yellow with small amounts of red. The male Summer Tanager is often mistaken for a male Cardinal. While they really don't look alike, most people just assume the red bird they see is the more common Cardinal. These birds spend most of their time high up in the top canopy of trees in dense forested areas. In the spring the Summer Tanager arrives after wintering in Central and South America.
The Summer Tanager's main food is bees and wasps. They are excellent flycatchers, able to seize adult bees and wasps in mid-flight and take them back to a perch where they then kill them by beating them against a tree limb. They will remove the stinger and then eat their victim. In addition to eating bees and wasps, the Summer Tanager also eats a wide variety of flying and non-flying insects such as cicadas, grasshoppers, ants, beetles, dragonflies, caterpillars, and spiders.
Summer Tanagers also eat fruits and berries, mostly in the winter or during breeding season. These include blackberries, blueberries, mulberries, and bananas. In the image, the bird sometimes called "the bee-eater”, appears to be planning his attack on this bee. The Summer Tanager made an attempt to capture the bee but missed. I felt fortunate to not only witness but to photograph this interaction.
Ed. Note: Painted Buntings will be the topic for Second Saturday on May 14, 2011, with Dr. Wayne Meyer’s program Songs of the Painted Bunting. For more information about Hagerman National Wildlife Refuge, the official website is
Information about the Friends of Hagerman can be found at http://www.friendsofhagerman.com.