Birds – Summer Tanager

(Piranga rubra) Tanager family

Called also: REDBIRD; SMOOTH-HEADED REDBIRD

Length—7.5 inches. About one-fourth smaller than the robin.

Male—Uniform red. Wings and tail like the body.

Female—Upper parts yellowish olive-green; underneath inclining to orange-yellow.

Range—Tropical portions of two Americas and eastern United States. Most common in Southern States. Rare north of Pennsylvania. Winters in the tropics.

Migrations—In Southern States : April. October. Irregular migrant north of the Carolinas.

Thirty years ago, it is recorded that so far north as New Jersey the summer redbird was quite as common as any of the thrushes. In the South still there is scarcely an orchard that does not contain this tropical-looking beauty—the redbird par excellence, the sweetest singer of the family. Is there a more beautiful sight in all nature than a grove of orange trees laden with fruit, starred with their delicious blossoms, and with flocks of redbirds disporting themselves among the dark, glossy leaves ? Pine and oak woods are also favorite resorts, especially at the north, where the bird nowadays forsakes the orchards to hide his beauty, if he can, unharmed by the rifle that only rarely is offered so shining a mark. He shows the scarlet tanager’s preference for tree-tops, where his musical voice, calling ” Chicly-tucky-tuk alone betrays his presence in the woods. The Southern farmers declare that he is an infallible weather prophet, his ” WET WET, WET,” being the certain indication of rain—another absurd saw, for the call-note is by no means confined to the rainy season.

The yellowish-olive mate, whose quiet colors betray no nest secrets, collects twigs and grasses for the cradle to be saddled on the end of some horizontal branch, though in this work the male sometimes cautiously takes an insignificant part. After her three or four eggs are laid she sits upon them for nearly two weeks, being only rarely and stealthily visited by her mate with some choice grub, blossom, or berry in his beak. But how cheerfully his fife-like whistle rings out during the temporary exile ! Then his song is at its best. Later in the summer he has an aggravating way of joining in the chorus of other birds’ songs, by which the pleasant individuality of his own voice is lost.

A nest of these tanagers, observed not far from New York City, was commenced the last week of May on the extreme edge of a hickory limb in an open wood; four eggs were laid on the fourth of June, and twelve days later the tiny fledglings, that all look like their mother in the early stages of their existence, burst from the greenish-white, speckled shells. In less than a month the young birds were able to fly quite well and collect their food.