Birding Notes

Reflections on birds and other wildlife on the edge of a southern woodland

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Female Summer Tanager Feeding Juvenile

This afternoon, in hot, sunny weather, with a soft blue sky, small white clouds and a welcome strong warm breeze, a female Summer Tanager spent an hour or more foraging in the oaks and pines at the edge of the woods in our back yard, and feeding a begging juvenile Summer Tanager. The mother Tanager hunted steadily and fed the juvenile often.

I first saw her as a flash of warm yellow in the branches of a white oak, then she flew into a pine and spent most of her time in the pines. All-over yellow, with olive-drab wings and a long, thick tanager’s bill, she wasn’t particularly striking in appearance, but as I watched her, I admired her skill in hunting. Sometimes she gleaned insects or spiders from leaves – I watched her eat one caterpillar – but most of the time she caught flying insects in the air. Some might have been bees or wasps, which Summer Tanagers particularly like. Certainly there are plenty of all kinds of flying insects around right now!

At one point, she made a swift turn in the air and caught a moth-like flying insect, and took it to a branch, where she shook it against the branch before eating it. Another time, she caught a large-winged insect in mid-air and carried it to a branch, where I could see that it was a praying mantis. She seemed to strip off the wings and to rub the mantis against the branch, and this time the juvenile flew up beside her, quivered its wings, begging, and she fed the mantis to it.

Meanwhile, I heard an unfamiliar call. A kind of a whimpering wee-ooor-whee, low and soft, and after a while discovered that the call was being made by the juvenile Summer Tanager. I could see it quivering its wings among the leaves as it made the call. I watched the female feed the juvenile several times – she was working hard. Most of the time I saw the juvenile only from the back. It appeared light olive-brown, with only a hint of yellow, and sort of mottled in color.

It was a great day to be out. Two Eastern Wood Pewees continue to call their fall puh-wee repeatedly and one often hunts from the branches of pines at the edge of the woods. A pair of Hairy Woodpeckers continue to work steadily on some newly-dead pines just inside the woods. A handsome juvenile Red-bellied Woodpecker, two mature Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and a pair of Downy Woodpeckers also worked on the pines. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are at their most active, visiting the feeder constantly, checking out all the flowers around, and chasing each other all around the yard, zooming, chattering, making little clicking noises when they make contact, and occasionally managing to stop at the feeder for some nectar for a few quiet seconds.


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