Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scarlet vs. Summer Tanager

Most male Scarlet Tanagers are probably unmistakable. These brilliant long-distance neotropical migrants bring us Minnesotans a taste of the tropics as these tanagers appear in the spring from their wintering grounds in northwestern South America. Among our breeding birds, this tanager's intense scarlet is non-peril. Scarlet Tanagers inhabit eastern deciduous woodlands, where they occur in low densities and, despite the threat of forest fragmentation, in stable numbers.  Eckert considers them to be uncommon in Minnesota. Nevertheless, birders can usually find them if they know where to search and are familiar with their songs.
A lesser known field mark of the Scarlet Tanager is the lower edge of the upper mandible, which usually shows a distinct "tooth."  This notch is clearly visible on the bill of the male tanager, banded today in Northfield.  It is less evident, but present in the second photo, a female Scarlet Tanager banded several years ago at the Nerstrand Big Woods State Park.
The last photo is of a Summer Tanager, rare but "barely regular" in Minnesota (Eckert).  Summer Tanagers usually breed in the southern United States. They winter from Mexico to South America. Female and immature tanagers can be difficult to identify.  Summer Tanagers are larger and more yellowish-orange, less olive than Scarlet Tanagers.  They usually lack the upper mandible notch you saw on the photo of the male Scarlet Tanager.  This Summer Tanager appeared at my South Dakota sunflower feeder on 18 November 2000, a late date for the state.

1 comment:

  1. We had a Scarlet Tanager in our feeder and tree yesterday in Jordan, MN. We were so amazed at it's beauty and that we have never seen this bird before that i googled it right away and learned about this rare bird. We have a picture of it on our FB page.