Spotting the Striking Summer Tanager: A Guide to Missouri’s Red Birds

red birds in missouri

Missouri’s vibrant wildlife is a treat for any nature lover. Among its diverse fauna, the state’s red birds truly stand out. They’re not just visually striking, but their behavior and habitat are equally fascinating.

Whether you’re an avid birdwatcher or a curious traveler, spotting these crimson beauties can be a delightful experience. From the fiery Northern Cardinal to the ruby-throated hummingbird, Missouri’s red birds promise a captivating sight.

Exploring the Northern Cardinal

Referred to as the “state bird” of Missouri, the Northern Cardinal strikes a fascinating silhouette with its radiant red plumage. It’s perhaps the most recognizable and beloved of all the red birds. The males, with their vibrant, all-red bodies and a neat black face mask extending from eyes to throat, are pleasing to the sight.

The Northern Cardinal isn’t just about aesthetics, though. It’s got a melody to its voice. Their songs are a series of whistles and warbles that are distinctive and full of life. I’ve often found myself entranced by the complex symphony of trills that floats through the air at dawn.

Distinctly, the Northern Cardinals are non-migratory in nature. This implies they stay year-round in Missouri. During the frigid winter months, the sight of the red cardinal against a backdrop of snow is nothing short of exquisite.

The Northern Cardinals have a prime choice in habitat. They prefer thickets, woodland edges, gardens, and shrubby suburban yards. If you’re patient, fortunate, and look in the right places, you’ll spy one of these splendid creatures hopping low to the ground or singing from a high perch.

Interestingly, their diet is quite diverse, ranging from grains and insects to fruits and seeds. Cardinals are quite the opportunistic eater if you notice.

Food Items% in Diet

Remember, getting the perfect view of these beauties will require some quiet, patience, and often a bit of luck. They’re worth every second of the wait though. The Northern Cardinal doesn’t seize to amaze, and you can’t deny its status as one of Missouri’s most visually brilliant and fascinating bird species. The enduring fascination I’ve with these red birds is a testament to their extraordinary allure.

Discovering the Scarlet Tanager

Delving deeper into the repertoire of red birds that grace Missouri’s landscapes, one cannot miss the vibrant Scarlet Tanager. This bird boasts a radiant red body juxtaposed with jet black wings, creating a vivacious visual spectacle. I’ve been fortunate to observe the Tanager in its natural environment and it’s never short of a mesmerizing sight.

Scarlet Tanagers, much like Northern Cardinals, are non-migratory birds preferring to thrive year-round in Missouri’s diverse habitats. These birds are a sight to behold, stark against winter white snow almost as if they’re attempting to bring warmth to the cold. Notably, they prefer habitats such as forests or woodlands, adding to the verdant charm of Missouri’s green spaces.

Examining the Tanager’s diet reveals a range of food sources, integrating both plant and animal matter. Their diet consists of fruits, seeds, and insects, much like their Northern Cardinal counterparts. However, they have a particular affinity for caterpillars and beetles, a bow to their wider predatory instincts.

Observing Scarlet Tanagers in their natural environment is an experience worth pursuing. It does require a combination of patience and luck, much like many wildlife observation pursuits. When you do spot them, you’re treated to flashes of brilliant red darting between green leaves, creating a striking spectacle that’s hard to forget.

If you’re keen to witness these radiant creatures up close, planning visits to your local forests or woodlands during their breeding seasons (around May to July) can increase your chances. Combining this with an early start to the day could provide a boost, as these birds are most active during early morning hours.

In the grand scheme of Missouri’s birdwatching scene, the Scarlet Tanager is an undeniable gem. Its vivid plumage, coupled with distinctive feeding habits, contributes to its rank as one of the state’s most visually dynamic and intriguing bird species.

Observing the Vermilion Flycatcher

Next on our list of red birds in Missouri is the Vermilion Flycatcher. This bird is a treat for the eyes. Hailed as a ‘jewel of the desert’, the male Vermilion Flycatcher sports a brilliant red crown and underparts contrasting brightly against a bold, black mask. Females, however light, are more muted with a streaked brown plumage and salmon-orange belly. Similar to other red birds like the Scarlet Tanager, these Flycatchers augment Missouri’s diverse wildlife.

They’ve proven to be quite elusive for many avid birdwatchers. Their preferred habitats are riparian areas with open spaces – places near water bodies with abundant insect populations. Diverse habitats including the Ozark forests and Mississippi lowlands provide ideal vicinity for these birds.

The Vermilion Flycatcher’s diet primarily consists of insects. They’re particularly fond of flies, bees, and beetles. Observing their unique hunting style is indeed a spectacle. They often perch on low branches or posts scanning the surroundings for meals. Once they spot a meal, they catapult into the air to snatch their prey mid-flight.

The best window to spot these fiery red wonders is during their breeding season, which typically runs from April through August. An interesting behavior to note is their courtship display. Males perform an aerial dance, rising high in the air before spiraling down, all while singing a prolific song. It’s quite the dramatic spectacle, adding a fascinating narrative to Missouri’s wildlife encounters.

However, due to their sporadic distribution, spotting a Vermilion Flycatcher can seem like finding a needle in a haystack. It’s all about being in the right place at the right time. Patience is key when bird watching and with a little luck, you might be able to add the Vermilion Flycatcher to your own list of sightings!

Missouri’s avifauna never ceases to impress. From the vibrant Scarlet Tanagers to the elusive Vermilion Flycatchers, each offers an enchanting glimpse into the state’s abundant wildlife. The journey of discovering these red birds is nothing short of extraordinary. So grab your binoculars and embark on an adventure across Missouri’s terrain, there’s always a feathered friend waiting to be found.

Spotting the Summer Tanager

Shifting focus to yet another striking red bird in Missouri, let’s talk about the Summer Tanager. These birds are known for their all-red plumage in males, which sports a vibrant shade varying from rose to scarlet. On the other hand, females and young males usually have a duller hue— a mix of olive and yellow instead of the intense red.

If you’re driven by an urge to see these crimson aviators, begin your search in Missouri’s forested areas. Summer Tanagers prefer thickly wooded habitats. They’re seldom found in open fields and are more comfortable swinging and hopping in the treetops. Birdwatchers might find it challenging to spot them due to their preference for high perches.

The trick to find these elusive birds is to listen for their distinctive call. Their song, often described as a series of sweet, musical whistles, is a giveaway. If you’re lucky enough and it’s singing season between April to July, you might also hear the male’s slower, sweeter courting song.

To increase your chance of catching a glimpse of these scarlet songsters, timing is vital. They’re summer breeders in Missouri, so your best bet is to look for them between late April to mid-September. Let’s dive into some data to increase our understanding of the Tanager spotting season:

MonthLikelihood of Spotting

As we advance down the red bird trail in Missouri, it’s clear that spotting a Summer Tanager requires patience, timing, and a keen ear. With the right tools and a little persistence, you’ll be able to witness these incredible aviators in their natural element.


So, if you’re eager to catch a glimpse of the stunning Summer Tanager, remember it’s all about timing. Keep your eyes and ears open, especially during May, June, and July. The forested areas of Missouri are your best bet for spotting these all-red males and their olive-yellow counterparts. Listen out for their melodic whistle, a sure sign they’re near. With patience and a bit of luck, you’ll witness these scarlet songsters in their natural habitat, adding a vibrant splash of color to your birdwatching adventures. It’s these encounters that make birdwatching in Missouri such an enriching experience. So grab your binoculars, head out, and let the Summer Tanager’s song guide your way.


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