Mature males are red overall with a dark wash on the wings. First-year males are a mottled yellow-red. The female is yellow, occasionally with a mustard or orange wash. Other things to look for: The song of this tanager sounds similar to an American Robin, and its call is a sharp ti-ki-tuck-tuck. 20 cm (7.75 in) in length.
The breeding season begins in early May, peaks later that month, and extends into mid-July. Breeding habitat includes open deciduous forest, orchards, mixed forests, and bottomland forests. It nests most often in deciduous trees or conifers approximately 3-10.5 m (10-35 feet) above the ground. The female builds a shallow cup-shaped nest out of grass, moss, and other plant material. The female lays 3-5 (usually 4) eggs that she incubates for approximately 11-12 days. The young are altricial and fledge approximately 10 days after hatching. The young are cared for by both adults while in the nest and for 2-3 weeks after they fledge.
The Summer Tanager frequents a variety of forested habitats. The diet includes insects, spiders, and fruits. This bird forages by sitting on a perch searching for prey. When prey is found, it is either picked up or caught in the air. The Summer Tanager especially likes bees and wasps. It commonly will assault a beehive or wasp nest if one is found. This species is a long distance migrant.
The Summer Tanager occurs in the southern United States during the breeding season. Its winters are spent from central Mexico south through Central America and into Brazil. It can be found throughout the Southeast during the breeding season. It is uncommon in the northern fourth of Georgia and common throughout the remainder of the state, but can be seen throughout the state during migration.
This species is common and is not listed as Threatened or Endangered in any portion of its southeastern range.
The species most similar to the Summer Tanager in the East is the Scarlet Tanager. The Scarlet Tanager male is also red, but has black wings. The female Scarlet Tanager has a shorter bill, white wing linings, and more olive color on the upper parts. The Scarlet Tanager song is also Robin-like, but its call is a harsh chik-burr.