Summer Tanager, Central Park NYC - 5/13/2007
Images and text copyright © Phil Jeffrey 2007
This Summer Tanager was especially cooperative in the Ramble (near the Oven) in Central Park on the early morning of May 13th. I've vacillated quite a bit over the age and sex of the bird. The coloration on the bird is somewhat ambiguous and fits either first summer male or adult female (second summer or beyond). The ID comes down to age classification which in turn should be possible from careful examination of feather wear and shape in certain photos I have. The bird appeared to be in molt - the uppertail coverts in particular were both a deep red and also not lying flat. Closer inspection of the photos reveals that one central retrix (R1) was fresh and probably still growing, as well as one or two innermost tertials. The rest of the tail feathers were relatively abraded, as you'd expect. I've decided that this is probably a first spring male, from a combination of factors: the deep red of the undertail and uppertail coverts (anomalous for adult female), the replacement of that central retrix (just the one, although conceivably this could be from damage) and the relatively pointed outermost primaries. Most passerines do not replace their flight feathers (incl. tail feathers) in the pre-alternate molt, although apparently this sometimes happens in hatch year birds. This took a certain amount of reading in Pyle ("Identification Guide to North American Birds"), not least of all because the primaries weren't quite pointed enough to be a trivial call for first year immature. (The reddish tones in adult females are a feature of eastern ssp. of Summer Tanager, which explains why I hadn't come across this in the numerous Summer Tanager females I saw in 2006 in AZ).
Phil Jeffrey, May 2007, revised Dec 2007.