Mystery Bird: Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra

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[Mystery bird] Summer Tanager, Piranga rubra, photographed at Quintana Neotropical Bird Sanctuary, Brazoria County, Texas. [I will identify this bird for you in 48 hours]

Image: Joseph Kennedy, 21 April 2010 [larger view].

Nikon D200, Kowa 883 telescope with TSN-PZ camera eyepiece 1/400s f/8.0 at 1000.0mm iso400.

Please name at least one field mark that supports your identification.

For those of you who know exactly what this bird is, I have several questions for you: first, How is this species distinguished from a very close relative? Second; there is a very unusual feature of this bird's plumage that makes it special, can you tell me what that is?

This adult male Summer Tanager is the only all-red bird in North America without a crest. The Summer Tanager is a bright rose color, unlike the intense scarlet color of the Scarlet Tanager adult male. Summer Tanager males are also distinguished from Scarlet Tanager males because the latter have black wings and a black tail. The female Summer Tanager is usually brownish or orange-yellow, and not as green as the female Scarlet Tanager. Female Scarlet Tanagers also have darker wings than female Scarlet Tanagers. Immature males have a distinct spotty or splotched appearance with orange-red and red patches on otherwise yellow plumage (some immatures can be hard to distinguish from females).

The special feature about the Summer Tanager male is that, unlike the Scarlet Tanager male, Summer Tanagers retain their bright plumage throughout the year.

Review all mystery birds to date.

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What a perfect bird for summer!

I'm thinking male, past the first season?

I had to look up, and was surprised to find these are related to cardinals and such, even though their beaks don't look at all cardinally.

If I'm reading Bardiac correctly, then we agree that this bird's a liver! The ed primaries shading to black told me, but I don't, alas, have answers to the subsequent questions.

Drat! After a moment's thought, I'm not sure any more. Bardiac is thinking one species, I was thinking another. I was thinking the other mostly because I thought Brazoria was in west Texas and my bird is a west Texas bird. Looking at a map, I see it's on the gulf coast and as such, more likely to be a hot season bird and suddenly understand Grrl's question.

According to Cornell, the differences are brighter colors, a lack of gray, and a lighter beak in the seasonal species. With that, and the range map, I'll switch to seasonal.

To follow up on Apikoros' statement: the most notable location to see the difference is in the auriculars (behind and below the eye, so named because they cover the ear) -- bright red in this species, gray in the western one. Interestingly, the bill on this bird seems awfully dark except on the outer third or so. Not sure what's going on there.

Yes Paul, I was uncertain about the bill colour but I can't find any "livers" with a bill approaching this one, so I think Bardiac has nailed this one to the right time of year.

I wholeheartedly concur on the seasonal ID. Is there any other North American bird with that much red in its plumage? Not even this guy's archepiscopal relative is red all over like that.

By Another Kevin (not verified) on 13 May 2010 #permalink