Summer Tanager

Piranga rubra
Range Map

No other North American bird is as completely red as the Summer Tanager. Even its relative, the Northern Cardinal, has a black mask to contrast with its red cloak.

We find these tanagers across the southern United States from California to Florida, and in the eastern United States, northwest to Iowa and northeast to Delaware. Western populations inhabit riparian woodlands and, at higher elevations, mesquite woodlands. During winter, these birds travel as far south as the middle latitudes of South America.

Until visiting south Texas in the spring of 2020, my meetings with this species were only in Arizona, but on my way back to San Diego, I stopped to visit a friend in Albuquerque and we found them at a nearby bosque (riparian woodland).

Modern science calls out three subspecies of Summer Tanager:

  • P. r. rubra breeds in eastern USA. They spend winters in southern Mexico, the West Indies, and northern South America.
  • P. r. cooperi breeds in the desert southwest of the USA and northern Mexico. They spend winters in central and southern Mexico.
  • P. r. ochracea breeds only in northwestern Arizona. They spend winters in coastal western Mexico.

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