The male of this beautiful songbird has a completely red body and tail and black eyes. The bill is yellowish and heavy, perhaps an advantage in capturing and eating the variety of insects on which the tanager feeds. Females are also strikingly colored, but very different from the males, having a yellow head, breast, and rump, and olive wings and back. The call is a raspy staccato chatter but the song is melodic and reminiscent of the American Robin.

Male summer tanager. Photo by James Taulman.

Summer tanagers are primarily insect eaters, taking smaller prey in flight or grabbing them off of the limbs of trees or leaves where the birds forage high in the forest canopy. Beetles, grasshoppers, and cicadas are among the larger of their insect prey. They are also known to relish bees and wasps and have no hesitancy attacking wasp nests or even foraging around honey bee hives. They will also occasionally eat fruits and berries.

In New Mexico, summer tanagers are found in the southern portions of the state and extending farther up the Rio Grande Valley to the central part of the state. The breeding range extends from the eastern seaboard across the southeastern U.S., through south Texas and into southern New Mexico and Arizona, and extending across the Texas border into Mexico. The western Arizona population along the Colorado River has declined in recent years, but the majority of the U.S. population seems stable through the rest

Female summer tanager. Photo by James Taulman.

of the breeding range. They migrate south in winter, traveling throughout Central America to the northern portions of South America.

The individuals photographed here were seen at the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge, along the Rio Grande near San Antonio. Favored breeding habitats in the southwest are cottonwood-willow groves along watercourses and open forests of pines and hardwoods in the southeast. They frequent forest edges and may be seen there singing, calling, or foraging in the canopy.

Males will chase around their chosen mate during courtship, until she either accepts his advances or goes with another male. Females build cup-shaped nests out on the limb of a pine or hardwood tree, using various plant materials, including bark, leaves, weed stems, and even Spanish moss, where it is available. Spider webs may be used to help hold the structure together. The female will incubate the 3-5 eggs for 11-12 days and both parents contribute to feeding and care of the nestlings.

The Audubon Society predicts that global warming will provide additional suitable habitats for range expansion in the northern portions of the current breeding range.