• Summer Tanager

    Common NameSummer Tanager
    Scientific NamePiranga rubra
    Type of ReportRare Species
    Date of Observation05/06/2017
    Number Observed1
    Reporting Observer's NameVeer Frost
    Mailing AddressPO Box 93
    Passumpsic, Vermont 05861
    United States
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    EmailEmail hidden; Javascript is required.
    Date Completed05/15/2017
    Latitude of Observation44.376669
    Longitude of Observation72.02806
    Place NamePassumpsic
    Time of Day07:30 AM
    Length of Time Observed9 - 10 minutes
    Maximum Estimated Distance from Bird (in feet)8' approx
    Minimum Estimated Distance from Bird (in feet)4' approx
    Noteworthy Weather Conditions

    Quite heavy cloud layer damping down the morning light, dull and grey.

    Optical Equipment Used for Observation

    Nikon 'Monarch' 10x42

    Observer’s Previous Acquaintance With This or Similar Species

    Well known after multiple encounters in Southwest over the years.

    I certify that that attachments included with this report were captured during this observation event​​.
    Description of Habitat

    The Passumpsic river is at the bottom of my property, which slopes upward, the house set as far upward from the river as possible and surrounded by large trees, Smooth sumac and Boxelder dominate along the river, large crabapples and sugar maple in the front garden, with mid-developed Alternate-leaved Dogwood, Hemlock, and Tamarack. My narrow kitchen ends in wide windows that meet at the N corner. This corner overlooks a near (<10') boundary of brush, mostly lilac, and mature trees (sugar and boxelder maples, and a very large spruce whose branches begin c15' up) that separate this property from its neighbor. The 'brush' includes an American Elm, currently in health, that sprung up beneath the spruce and has grown in a curve-backed habit beneath the big tree, quite low and reaching toward my kitchen, for the light. The Tanager was on a branch of elm when I saw it, i.e., at nearly eye level from my kitchen window.

    Behaviors Observed

    The Tanager was stock still on its branch when I came inside at 7.30am and sat by the window. However, its head was turned right toward me, since it was examining the suet feeder that hangs against the window, so it didn't appear to be in trouble, just cautious. The Tanager paid no mind to the juncos and Titmouse watching it from the low, dead branches of the spruce. For several minutes he only moved his head, taking in the place he'd landed seemingly. He dived over to the suet feeder and nobody challenged him for the next couple of minutes. At this point he wasn't three feet from me and when I momentarily lost my frozen pose he fled. Out of doors I thought his dazzling color flashed very high in the neighbor's giant willow, from which he sang, just twice. At noon, he returned for a try at the suet but was spooked as he flew in and swerved away.

    Description of Vocalizations

    The song had a one-two, one-two opening whistle, before crowding with more notes. Later, I checked the Summer Tanager page on the Cornell site and it precisely matched the opening notes of their 'typical' voice.

    Verbal Narrative & Description of Observation

    There was a spectacular splash of red in the tree as I sat down with my tea and I thought of the male Cardinal. I'm a painter and knew at once this wasn't the Cardinal's red (with its base of blue) but a red saturated with amber-yellow. To say the color was striking on such a gray morning is understatement by a wide margin. The ivory-ish, massive bill said Summer Tanager straightaway, though it seemed impossible. I've followed these tanagers around SW sites and found them not particularly shy. Then I recalled seeing references to the SUTA on eBird this spring, farther south, and wasn't sure of the rarity element. I keep birding glasses on the table and quickly confirmed SUTA.

    The Tanager seemed in a 'pause' state, eyes on the suet feeder but unwilling to commit; this might have been the effect of my appearance on the other side of the window. The other birds present in that swathe of bare branches were two Dark-eyed juncos and two then one Tufted Titmouse, all of which kept wary eyes on the SUTA, like a stand-off. I got my glasses on the Tanager, really his size and color were an exclamation to the morning world at that point! The other feeder around the corner, for seeds, had no activity despite the cold. I timed this pause at five minutes or so, then the Tanager flew to the suet and dined for about two minutes, he seemed very hungry, not rushing off with a prize as the woodpeckers do. At this point I am barely separated from the bird, its powerful body and bill virtually engulfing the suet cage. He flew off and I followed outdoors but the light was poor and I would not have sworn to the flash I saw in the willow treetop as him until he sang. I noted the two by two opening notes, repeating them until I could get in and compare to a tape or online.

    Naturally, I hung about the kitchen for another visit, but had given up and just happened to be there again at about noon when he returned to the elm, this time flying without hesitation to the suet. I assumed it was a squirrel or sight of someone's cat caused him to swerve away. I didn't see him again. That evening, which had cleared to sun, Craig Provost stopped by and very kindly waited for another sighting, but concluded the bird, probably storm-blown in, might have headed back south.

    Sometime after the initial feeder visit, I posted to the eBird list, but it seems I never made a real checklist report, though I posted two other checklists that afternoon. I attribute this to a general gobsmacked-ness about the morning's wonder.

    Relative Size & Shape

    Noticeably larger than Rose-breasted Grosbeak, thick-bodied and a bill that looks like it could open doors.


    Red-feathered all over, dark eyes,

    Feet & Bill

    Did not take in feet particularly, chunky, tan bill that looks a couple of inches (perfect color complement to ambered-red, just for the Beauty-theorists out there!)

    Upper Back

    Stocky, red

    Lower Back & Rump



    Red, darker perhaps but hard to distinguish in overcast

    Breast, Belly, Flanks, Under Tail Coverts

    Red all over, did not really see Coverts


    Couldn't see tail shape except long with squarish end; red; probably better than 1/3rd length of body

    IMPORTANT: What similar species were eliminated when making the identification and how was this bird different?

    Cardinal male, which doesn't share the yellow cast of the Tanager's red color, and is smaller overall.

    Other Notes & Comments

    Male. Extremely striking, pure red. Unsure of juvenile characteristics, unable to say as to age.

    This report was written from notes taken:Written from Memory

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