Two Tanager species breed in Missouri.
Let's start with the stunning Scarlet Tanager!
The bright red male is in breeding plumage, but by September, its plumage has changed to the yellow with black wings.
These last four images are of a male and female that came in together on 5/6/23. The female's wings are not fully black but greenish.
By fall, both species are transitioning to winter plumage which will give them better camouflage on their wintering grounds.
Summer Tanager is a species with quite variable plumage!
These are immature males and the breeding plumage is the deep rosy red.
This is a red morph female, with splotches of red feathering.
Again, immature and mature males in varying plumages in spring.
Looked like a female. That's a Tennessee Warbler in the background.
This bird was photographed on 9-26-20 and frankly, I'm not sure of the sex on this one.
Perhaps both of these were red morph females.
Summer Tanagers feed mainly on insects, including bees, wasps, caterpillars, grasshoppers, dragonflies, beetles and cicadas.
In fall, these birds are differing shades of yellow, usually mustard yellow for the Summer and greenish yellow for the Scarlet.
So, what about this bird?
This bird, a Tanager species, was seen and photographed for a total of 22.95 seconds late in the afternoon on Friday, September 29, 2023. I had contacted several experts in Missouri birds, in hopes that the bird might come back the next morning. The birders were here for several hours, but the bird did not show. So, we were left with just these few photos. My original thought was that it might be a Hepatic Tanager, and if so, this would be the first time this species would have been seen in Missouri, i.e. a new state record. I checked the eBird page on this species and one can zoom in on the map to see sightings much farther north and east of Missouri.
So, how to be certain of a bird in transitional plumage? The bill was large and somewhat horn colored but not fully visible. Hepatic Tanager has a tooth-like notch in the upper mandible. However, this bird had a very gray cheek and dark lores, which had pointed me to Hepatic after studying online photos.
My photos were sent around and it was up to Pete Monacell, chairman, and Bill Rowe, secretary of the Missouri Bird Records Committee, to build a consensus. Birding Trip Guides of the southwest were consulted because of their field experience there with both Summer Tanager and Hepatic Tanager. They mostly agreed on Summer Tanager.
Bill got back to me and said that Mark Robbins, author of The Status and Distribution of Birds of Missouri, had checked skins of birds in the KU Biodiversity Institute and Natural History Museum's collection. Mark also finally called the bird a Summer Tanager.
Bill wrote to me again, "This was an unusual and difficult identification and there is no reason to feel funny about calling it a possible Hepatic and giving us a heads-up on it. The bird did deserve that kind of attention! It was a learning experience for all of us, and we are glad you were able to grab those photos." The irony is that many observers, including those consulted, have never seen this plumage in a Summer Tanager. "Weird, anomalously plumaged Summer Tanager," it was called, and well, a lesson was learned by all.
At Shady Oaks, we welcome all the ugly ducklings!
As for me...
"Let me keep my mind on what matters most which
is my work which is mostly standing still
and learning to be astonished."
~ Mary Oliver ~