4 Vibrant Tanager Bird Species to Know

Learn about the four types of tanager birds you might see in North America. Discover how to identify tanagers and learn how to attract them.

Learn all about tanagers and see how to identify the four North American tanager bird species.

western tanagerCourtesy Susan Forde

Western Tanagers

With his red-orange head, yellow body and black wings, the male western tanager looks like a little ball of flame as he forages in coniferous forests for insects and berries. (The female’s dull yellow coloring is less eye-catching.) As their name hints, these are the western counterparts to scarlet tanagers. In summer, western tanagers can appear as far north as southeastern Alaska—farther north than any other tanager species. Attract these birds to your backyard with oranges, sugar water and native plants, which draw in bugs for tanagers to eat. Western tanagers have also been known to eat suet during cold snaps.

scarlet tanager spring birds Rodger Boehm Bnb Bypc 2020Courtesy Rodger Boehm
Male scarlet tanager

Scarlet Tanagers

His bright red body makes the male scarlet tanager easier to spot in the open. But unfortunately for birders, this tanager likes to forage for insects high up in deciduous canopies. Scarlet tanagers spend half the year in the Midwest and the eastern parts of the United States, migrating to South America for winter. Because scarlet tanagers are often forced to nest near open habitats due to deforestation, they are susceptible to brown-headed cowbirds that leave their eggs in tanager nests. Attract scarlet tanagers to your yard with grape jelly and oranges.

summer tanagerCourtesy Stacey Aldridge
Male summer tanager in breeding plumage

Summer Tanagers

Watch out, bees! Although these brightly colored birds (males are a cardinal red and females mustard yellow) will eat most insects, their favorite meals are bees and wasps. Common in southern woods full of oak trees, summer tanagers will catch wasps and rub them against branches to remove their stingers before eating them. Afterward, they’ll eat the larvae left in the hive. To coax summer tanager birds to your yard, try leaving out sweet treats like blackberries and overripe bananas, which will attract bees, too. Check out 7 backyard birds that eat berries.

Hepatic Tanager male, tanager birdHal Beral/Getty Images
Male hepatic Tanager in Madera Canyon, Arizona

Hepatic Tanagers

Hepatic tanagers are very widespread, trailing down into Argentina. But they usually migrate north of the Mexican border only for the summer breeding season. They can be found in pine forests of the southwestern U.S. Hepatic tanagers eat mostly insects, such as caterpillars and beetles, but also enjoy berries, especially in late summer. Hepatic tanagers get their name from the male’s liverlike coloring. 

Next, check out 8 types of orioles to look for in North America.

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