Piranga rubra, X jeret (Maya)

Over one billion birds migrate through, in, or overwinter in the Yucatán peninsula every year!

More than 550 bird species can be found in the peninsula with about half of those as migrants.

One of those migrants from the US is the Summer Tanager who heads south for the winter to central Mexico down to northern South America. It also migrates to the Yucatán Peninsula just like many tourists. A group of tanagers is called a “season”. The Yucatán has a winter season for tourists and one for this “tourist tanager”. Unlike most tourists it can linger here until the spring.

Although the Summer Tanager is about as long as an average pencil, nothing is average about the all red male bird, the only species in North America that is completely red.

In contrast, the female is Dijon mustard yellow or olive, and young males can show a mixture of these colors with red splotches.

Solitary except during the breeding season, a pair of Summer Tanagers becomes serial monogamists. Serving as the architect of the pair, the female builds her cup-shaped nest, then lays three to four eggs. Meanwhile, the male defends the nest and feeding territories. Both parents care for the young who can leave the nest in 8-10 days after hatching, but the parents may feed them for three more weeks.

This bird specializes in catching and feeding on bees and wasps. It may attack the bees’ nest, and eat the pupae as well as the adults. Also it rubs off any stingers before digesting the remains of the prey. Luckily, the Yucatán has some stingless bees, so it doesn’t need to take time to remove their stingers.

Sometimes it acts like a flycatcher when it sallies forth from a branch to catch other insects mid-air such as beetles, dragonflies, and grasshoppers. It pounds its prey on a limb before swallowing it. Fruits, seeds, and berries are eaten too, especially in winter and before migration.

By the way, recent genetic studies removed the tanager clan from their own family to place them in with the cardinal family. Guess those early scientists made a “cardinal” sin.

One of the nicknames is “beebird” because of its diet of bees and wasps. Another nickname, “calico warbler”, refers to the speckled pup appearance of the young. I have officially renamed the Summer Tanager in the Yucatán, the “Yucatanagers”.  Get it? Remember “summer” because “some are” here, “some are” there and “some are” not.

Nature’s wonders inspire Cherie Pittillo, a wildlife photographer, zoologist, and author. Contact her: [email protected]

Editorial and Photography by Cherie Pittillo for use in Yucatán Today

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