Treetops dwellers for sure, both the Scarlet and Summer Tanagers can sometimes by challenging to identify in the fall, unless you see an all-red male Summer Tanager like the one, at left.
Adult male Scarlet Tanagers do not retain their red feathers come fall and by the time they reach us they often look just like a female Scarlet. The same can be said for a first-fall male Scarlet which doesn't molt into its vivid red until next spring. So, before you holler out, "Female Scarlet!" remember that it could be a male in fall plumage.
But anyway, October should bring us more tanagers than did September, especially the first part of October. Scarlet's, in particular, are more abundant in our area then. So the next few weeks should be a good time to study these birds.
A Summer Tanager has a slightly larger bill than does a Scarlet. The bill is longer, too,. and not as gray. Summer Tanagers also may show a bit of a crest like the male Summer in the photo above shows. When wondering if you're looking at a female Summer Tanager or a fall-plumaged Scarlet Tanager consider these points;:
- Overall body color of a female Summer in fall is going to be yellowish or yellowish-brown whereas the body color of a Scarlet is yellow-green or greenish.
- Wings on a Scarlet are going to be black or show signs of black rather than the dark brown or mustard tone of a Summer's wings.
- Look around the eye. A Scarlet shows a very plain looking dark eye and does not have the dark (but sometimes very faint) loral line running through, or at least running through the front of the eye. This is a tough field mark unless the bird is seen in good light. Luckily, some tanagers tend to hold still. A behavior you might want to note is that Summer Tanagers will often cock their tail or have it raised a bit when perched.
Left, a Scarlet Tanager in typical spring plumage - but not what would be expected in fall (Photo: Sue Tavaglione). Above, right, an adult male Summer Tanager at all seasons (Photo: Bobby O'Link).
Below, left, a Scarlet Tanager in fall plumage. Notice the yellowish-green plumage, dark wings and plain eye. The wings are so black it is probably a male (Photo: S.Tavaglione). Below, right, a female Summer Tanager in fall plumage. Notice the overall yellowish to yellowish-brown body color, lack of black wings and a slight, so very slight, loral line (Photo: S.Tavaglione).