Scarlet Tanager, I Presume

This past weekend a pair of Scarlet Tanagers visited the back garden. Like the Indigo Bunting, this is a bird that we see only once every year or so.

A pair of Scarlet Tanagers on the feeder.

The male has a red body with black wings and tail, though this one looks more orange with a dash of yellow at his haunches. I think the difference is partly from the light and partly the bird itself. The female is a sort of pastel yellow.


Here’s a picture of the male that visited in 2017. You can see that he looks more scarlet and less orange than this year’s visitor.

“Grape jelly? For ME?”

According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds website, Scarlet Tanagers like to stay up in the tree tops. During spring migration, though, it is possible to draw them to feeders with grape jelly. They also are attracted to small fruits like Serviceberries (Amelanchier) and Raspberries (Rubus), though insects are their primary food.


All About Birds says that there has been a modest decline in the Scarlet Tanager population since the 1960s, possibly due to habitat fragmentation. This is a bird of the forest interior, though they may visit parks and gardens in the spring and fall.


Scarlet Tanagers spend the winter in the northern part of South America. Even if they only visit once a year, we are happy to offer them some sugary sustenance to help them recover from their long flight.


34 Comments on “Scarlet Tanager, I Presume”

    • We put the grape jelly out originally to attract Baltimore Orioles, and that has been very successful for a number of years. Gradually the other birds at the feeder have discovered it, and you should see our grape jelly bill! The scarlet tanagers are just the latest to the party.

  1. This is the only bright red bird we see here (no cardinals for us) so that exciting flash of color always means Scarlet Tanager (unless, of course, someone has lost his/her parrot.) Lucky you to see them at your grape jelly feeder!

  2. Lucky you! As far as I know I have never seen one of these in my yard although I am not able to monitor it much. I did have a Swainson’s Thrush last night, which was a new “yard” bird. It’s been a very rambunctious spring migration, I think.

  3. This is another bird that’s seen here during migration by serious birders who go out looking, but I’ve never seen one. I suspect they might be found farther east or north, where the environment’s more to their liking. They’re beautiful birds, no question about that. I have to depend on the cardinals for brilliant color.

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