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This Week’s Creature Feature: The Red Birds of Summer

These guys really stand out 
A male scarlet tanager
      When I’m asked, What is the name of the red bird I see around here? there are four birds that I consider.
      They are the male northern cardinal, the male scarlet tanager, the male summer tanager and the male house finch. I assume that the pattern is obvious: Only the males of the species are red; The females are brown or yellowish.  
       The most common red bird is the northern cardinal. They live here year-round and are distinguished by their thick red beak, black feathers around the beak and a tuft of feathers on the top of their head they can raise to a point. Cardinals also love to sing.  They are mostly seed-eaters but also feed on insects.  
      Male scarlet tanagers are very, very bright-red with black wing and beak. They like dense deciduous woods where, because they stay in the canopy, they can be hard to see. Scarlet tanagers prefer insects but will eat fruit and can be tempted to feeders with jelly, fruit and meal worms. They do nest in Maryland but make a long migration each year to South America for the winter.  
     Summer tanagers are all red. They have a reddish beak, and all their feathers are red. They are like the scarlet tanager in what they prefer to eat and where they stay, but the summer tanager is much less uncommon. They also migrate to South America each winter.
     The house finch is not as red as the others, but during the spring breeding season they can appear bright-red. The red washes their shoulders, head and the base of their tail. They do not migrate and are commonly found around cities. They like to nest in the nooks of people’s houses, like behind light fixtures. They are only a little larger than a goldfinch and have the same chiseled seed-eater beak.  They frequently come to feeders to eat seed, and they vocalize frequently.
      Cardinals and house finches are usually in your backyard. I usually find the tanagers by their song. The summer tanagers are common at the Patuxent Research Park North Tract. I have found scarlet tanagers at Jug Bay.
     Unfortunately, the tanagers’ habitat is shrinking. The forests in South America are being cut down and not replaced. Also, there are fewer and fewer old hardwood forests here.
      Plants trees.