Female Summer Tanagers in Sunrise Colors

Early this morning, a line of crape myrtles and large shrubs along a fence rustled with several birds flying in and out of the foliage. Among them was a deep-yellow bird with a long sturdy bill that emerged from the leaves and paused for a moment – a female Summer Tanager. She was completely yellow all over, but in different shades, her face and breast a brighter, lemon-yellow, her wings and back a darker olive-gold, with hints of brown and green. A medium-size songbird, a female Summer Tanager appears long and solid, with a fairly large head. Her long, heavy bill may be particularly suited for catching and subduing bees and wasps, which are among the Summer Tanager’s favorite prey.

There were also several Northern Cardinals moving around in these same trees and shrubs, but another reddish bird perched on the edge of a tree turned out to be, instead, a second and quite different female Summer Tanager. She also appeared deep yellow all over, but softly splotched on the chest and back and head with rose. She sat facing the morning sun, which gave her a rosy glow all over. The red in her plumage was not bright or in large patches, but subdued and appeared more as accents and shadows. It’s really almost impossible to describe, as if the rose-red color were a blush, under the surface of the yellow.

Lit by the morning sun, the colors of these two birds were enchanting, subtly changing like the colors of clouds, as they moved from sun to shadow and tree to shrub, from rose and red to gold and saffron, green and olive.

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