How to Attract Summer Tanagers (Follow These Simple Steps)

Not sure how to attract Summer Tanagers?

These beautiful birds may be elusive, but it’s not hopeless!

Understanding their habitat preferences, dietary needs, and behaviors will help you win them over and keep them coming back to your yard.

Let’s dive right in!

Key Takeaways

  • Summer tanagers can be elusive, so providing food and nesting resources is crucial for attracting them
  • Fruits and berries, along with a safe water source, can bring summer tanagers to your yard
  • Go pesticide-free in your gardening and pay attention to potential nesting spaces in your backyard trees

How to Attract Summer Tanagers to Your Backyard

summer tanager bird sitting on a fence post

Safe in the tree tops, Summer Tanagers are notoriously hard to spot. But if you can cultivate an environment that feels natural and safe for them in your backyard, you’re a lot more likely to spy them—and more regularly.

Here’s how to set up your yard to make the Scarlet Tanager a frequent visitor.

Read Next: How to Attract Scarlet Tanagers

Plant Bushes, Shrubs, and Flowers for Them

Summer Tanagers aren’t big on bird feeders. Instead, they heavily rely on natural food sources and will come to your backyard if you know what to plant for them.

In fact, planting berry bushes and attracting insects they eat are the biggest and best ways to get these birds to alight in your yard.

Here are some excellent ideas:

  • Plant blackberry, mulberry, blueberry, and serviceberry bushes and shrubs. They will provide key natural food sources these birds happily gobble up.
  • Be sure to plant a variety of flowers and plants in your garden. This will help to attract all the beetles, spiders, and creepy-crawlies the birds like to eat.
  • Some believe that Summer Tanagers occasionally sip nectar, so it’s not a bad idea to also include nectar-producing flowers in your garden. This will also attract bees and wasps, which the Summer Tanager likes to catch and eat.

Give Them Nesting Spaces

These songbirds thrive in the canopies of mature trees, where they find shelter and food.

They prefer densely wooded areas with a mix of tall trees and typically build their nests on horizontal branches. The lush foliage provides an ideal environment for their nests, which are usually built with grass, leaves, and bark strips.

  • So, to attract these eye-catching birds to your yard, consider planting trees like oaks, pines, firs, spruce, and hickory trees, which provide suitable nesting sites.
  • Also, you can also provide nesting materials like twigs and grass clippings for these birds to use in building their cozy homes.

Provide Fresh Water Sources

male red tanager bird sitting on the rim of a bird bath

Although Summer Tanagers are often found in wooded areas, they adapt well to suburban settings, too. But clean water for drinking and bathing can be harder to come by in these areas, which is why it’s crucial to provide it consistently.

  • Adding a birdbath or a shallow pond to your backyard is a great way to make your yard more attractive to these birds.
  • Make sure to keep the water fresh and clean, as Summer Tanagers are more drawn to well-maintained water sources.
  • If you’re looking to go the extra mile, add a water fountain to your birdbath or pond, as the sound of moving water can be especially alluring for these beautiful songbirds.

Go Pesticide-Free

Because Summer Tanagers feed on a variety of insects – including bees and wasps – it’s vital to maintain a pesticide-free environment. This will ensure a healthy and diverse insect population for them to prey upon.

Not only that, but Summer Tanagers are also sensitive to chemicals and pesticides. So if you want to see these beauties in your yard and garden, go for natural and organic gardening and lawn care practices.

With these tips in mind, you can turn your backyard into a haven for these captivating birds, whether they’re passing through on their migration or staying to breed in the southeast and southwest regions of the United States.

How to Attract Summer Tanagers With Food

red summer tanager bird sitting on a branch with ripening berries

While berry bushes are arguably the most important thing to attract Summer Tanagers, that doesn’t mean you should neglect them at the bird feeders.

Here’s what might catch their attention if you offer it up on a platform feeder, dish, or tray feeder.

Offer Them Grape Jelly!

Did you know Summer Tanagers have a taste for grape jelly?

These colorful birds are especially fond of the dark purple jelly, which can be served in a small dish or cup.

Go Bananas

To attract them to your backyard, you can offer Summer Tanagers very ripe bananas.

Wait until they develop black spots so they’re sweeter, then simply peel and leave out on a platform or visible surface for them.

You can also slice them up if you prefer, but the birds will find a way to eat them.

Slice Open Some Oranges

male summer tanager bird eating orange pulp from a skewered orange half

Summer Tanagers may come to a feeder with orange slices, or even halved oranges skewered on tree branches.

So go ahead and leave these fruit treats out for them, too.


A fantastic option is to offer suet, which provides much-needed energy for these active birds.

You can find suet blends with insects like crickets and mealworms, which Summer Tanagers are sure to go nuts for.

Bark Butter

If you want to try something really interesting, try bark butter.

You can smear bark butter right on trees, which might be even better for these shyer birds. 

Try a bark butter made with peanut butter and cornmeal, but keep it fairly simple for these avian friends.


Summer Tanagers are primarily insectivorous birds, meaning insects make up the bulk of their diet.

But if anything has a high chance of getting them to your bird feeders, mealworms do.

You can offer dried mealworms in addition to fruits, jelly, and berries for them.

Summer Tanager Diet in the Wild

female summer tanager with a bee in its beak

Feeding Patterns

These birds exhibit varied feeding patterns through the year. In the spring and early summer months, their diet mostly consists of insects.

However, during late summer, they shift their diet to include more fruits and berries.

As they prepare for their autumn migration, nearly 50% of their diet might consist of fruits and berries, helping them gain fat to sustain their journey.

So, be sure to offer them plenty of berries and bananas as the fall approaches, and have bushes that offer them berries to nibble in these season as well.

Insects in Their Diet

Summer Tanagers consume different types of insects, such as:

  • Bees
  • Wasps
  • Cicadas
  • Grasshoppers
  • Ants
  • Beetles
  • Bugs
  • Caterpillars
  • Flies

These birds possess a particular fondness for wasps and bees, which they skillfully capture and consume. During the summer months, these insects serve as the primary food source, catering to their protein needs.

This is why people who have bee hives and wasp nests in their yards may see more Summer Tanagers landing.

The combination of insects and fruits in their diet ensures they receive the necessary nutrients and energy to thrive during both the summer and winter seasons.

Migration Seasons and Patterns

  • Summer Tanagers undergo long migrations each year. They typically arrive in North America in spring, where they spend the warmer months breeding and raising their young.
  • As winter approaches, these birds make their way to Central and South America, traveling as far as the middle of the continent for their wintering grounds. During this time, they rely on their stored fat reserves to fuel their energetically demanding journeys.
  • Throughout the migration process, Summer Tanagers rely on various habitats along the way, from treetops to grasslands.
  • They also have been known to join flocks of other songbirds, such as the Western Tanager and Oriole, benefiting from safety in numbers during their long flights.
  • The timing of these migrations fluctuates depending on weather patterns, availability of food sources, and other environmental factors.

Summer Tanager Distribution

  • The Summer Tanager is an eye-catching migratory songbird that displays vibrant colors, making it a sought-after bird among enthusiasts. As its name suggests, it is found predominantly in North America during the warmer months. 
  • These tanagers make their way through different parts of the continent during their migration. In the United States, they can be found from the Southeast (areas such as Florida) up to the Great Plains in the Midwest.
  • During the winter months, Summer Tanagers migrate to warmer regions, traveling as far south as Central and South America. These birds can be found in countries such as Mexico, where they seek out tropical climates that suit their needs during the colder season.
  • The consistent and widespread distribution of Summer Tanagers across both continents makes them a fascinating species for birdwatchers and nature lovers alike.

If you’re looking to attract these beautiful birds to your yard or garden during the summer season, keep in mind their range and habitat preferences to ensure a successful birdwatching experience.

Appearance and Identification

Known as the only completely red bird found in North America, the male Summer Tanager is a brilliant sight against the green leaves of the forest canopy, while the mustard-yellow female is a bit harder to spot.

Let’s jump into how to identify the males and females of this bird species, as well as differentiating Summer Tanagers from Western Tanagers.

Adult Male

male summer tanager bird on a tree branch

Adult male Summer Tanagers are easily distinguishable due to their entirely red plumage.

Although their vivid color might seem like it would be easy to spot, they can be surprisingly difficult to see against the green leaves of the forest canopy.

Their size is similar to that of a robin and has a stocky build.

Some key features to identify them are:

  • Bright red plumage
  • Large, pale bill
  • Stocky build
  • Size similar to a robin


female tanager bird on a lichen covered branch

Female Summer Tanagers have a more subtle appearance than their male counterparts. They have a mustard-yellow color and an olive-green plumage above with yellow below.

Their size and shape are also similar to a robin, but their large, pale bills help with identification.

To summarize, some distinctive attributes of female Summer Tanagers are:

  • Mustard-yellow color
  • Olive-green plumage above and yellow below
  • Large, pale bill
  • Robin-like size and shape

Song and Sound

Summer Tanagers are known for their unique and distinctive chuckling call note, which can be easily recognized if you listen closely.

It sounds like a “Pit-Ti-Tuck.”

The male Summer Tanager sings in spring to defend its nesting territory, adding a melodic tune to their behavior repertoire.

Check out this video of a Summer Tanager “Pit-Ti-Tuck” call:

Summer Tanager vs. Western Tanager

The Western Tanager, although not a type of Summer Tanager, is often compared to them due to their similar size and shape.

However, their plumage is quite distinct when compared to both male and female Summer Tanagers.

The adult male Western Tanager sports a bright yellow body with black wings and a red-orange head. The female Western Tanager, on the other hand, possesses a yellow-green body with a hint of yellow on their face and throat.

Some major distinguishing factors are:

  • Bright yellow body with black wings (adult male)
  • Red-orange head (adult male)
  • Yellow-green body with a hint of yellow on face and throat (female)

To reiterate, Summer Tanagers can be identified based on their distinct plumage, size, and shape.

The completely red adult male, mustard-yellow female, and the uniquely colored Western Tanager are all features to observe when trying to identify these beautiful birds.

Related Species

Western Tanagers

western tanager bird on a rocky surface

Western Tanagers can be found throughout the western parts of North America, including California.

They are characterized by their yellow bodies, black wings, and striking orange-red heads in adult males, which makes them easily distinguishable from the entirely red male Summer Tanagers.

Scarlet Tanagers

scarlet tanager bird on a tree branch

Scarlet Tanagers are another related species that stands out for their vivid coloration. These birds exhibit brilliant red plumage in adult males, with black wings and tails.

Like the Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanagers prefer woodland habitats and rely on a diet comprised of insects and fruits.

They can be found in eastern North America, migrating to the tropics during the cold months to escape freezing temperatures.


rose breasted grosbeak clinging to a bird feeder

Apart from the tanagers, grosbeaks also belong to the same bird family, Cardinalidae. These birds can be identified by their large, heavy beaks and distinctive color patterns.

Grosbeaks are known to come in various types, including Rose-Breasted Grosbeak (pictured above), Black-Headed Grosbeak, and Blue Grosbeak.

While they share similar preferences for habitats and food, grosbeaks typically reside in different geographic regions compared to tanagers.

Frequently Asked Questions

What food sources attract Summer Tanagers?

Summer Tanagers primarily feed on insects, such as bees, wasps, beetles, cicadas, caterpillars, and grasshoppers, but they also enjoy berries and small fruits source.

Offering a variety of insect-based food options in your yard, like mealworms, can help attract these birds. Including berry-producing plants in your garden also appeals to their diet preferences.

Which type of feeder is best for Summer Tanagers?

Since Summer Tanagers are primarily insectivorous, they are not typically attracted to traditional bird feeders.

However, offering insects like mealworms, crickets, or even fruit can be placed in platform or dish feeders. This simple setup provides an open and accessible feeding area for them source.

What plants do Summer Tanagers prefer in their habitat?

To attract Summer Tanagers to your yard, consider incorporating native plants that provide a habitat for insects or small fruits.

Tall trees and shrubs with dense leaves offer suitable nesting sites, while plants like mulberries, blackberries, or dogwoods produce the berries and fruits they enjoy source.

How can I create an appealing environment for Summer Tanagers?

An appealing environment for Summer Tanagers includes a variety of native plants, trees, and shrubs, which provide natural food and shelter.

Providing a water source, such as a birdbath or a water feature, can also entice them to visit your garden.

Additionally, maintaining a pesticide-free yard is crucial, as it ensures the availability of their preferred insect food source source.

Do Summer Tanagers prefer certain colors for feeders or decorations?

While there isn’t any specific evidence pointing towards a color preference for Summer Tanagers, choose feeders and decorations that blend well with your yard’s foliage.

This will create a natural-looking environment, allowing these birds to feel more comfortable and secure while visiting your space.

What type of nesting materials attract Summer Tanagers?

Summer Tanagers prefer to nest in the dense foliage of tall trees or large shrubs. They build their nests with materials like grass, twigs, plant fibers, and sometimes even hair or feathers for lining.

To help attract these birds, you can leave small piles of these natural materials (healthy twigs, grass clippings, etc.) in your yard for them to find and use in nest-building source.

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