3 May 2013 – Summer Tanager

The 126th casualty of the study is also the 45th species: Summer Tanager.

I found this second year male at the southwest alcove this morning.  Yesterday was unseasonably cold and windy, with occasional driving rain and even some snow flurries in Tulsa.  This young male Summer Tanager was a bit worse for wear, probably at least in part from that nasty weather.  He had a fat score of zero.


In reading a bit about Summer Tanagers this morning, I learned that these birds are not just pouncing on poor, defenseless caterpillars as I had assumed comprised the bulk of their diet.  Summer Tanagers actually specialize on eating wasps!  Studies from both breeding grounds in the U.S. and wintering birds in the Neotropics have found bees and wasps as the most important component of their diets.  They chase them in midair, return to a branch to crush the abdomens of their prey to remove the stingers, and swallow them down.  Summer Tanagers will hunt wasps near their (the wasps’) nests, and pick off the adults one by one.  Then, when there is no more defense for the nest, the tanagers move in to destroy the colony by taking every defenseless larva.

More than ever, I’m excited by the moxy it must take to be the one thing that bees and wasps really fear.  That makes it even sadder to think that one of these noble, aggressive, and high-octane predators had its life cut short by something as stupid as a pane of glass.


Also cool about this guy was the pattern of red coming in on his otherwise mustard-yellow plumage.  Next May, he would’ve been a spectacular rosey-red, all over.

Screen shot 2013-05-03 at 5.46.27 PM

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