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What an odd bird! There aren't a lot of birds with red heads and yellow bellies – among them, Western Tanager, but that species never has a red chest. Knowing that in most species of birds yellow and red are derived from the same family of pigments – the carotenoids – and that the colors can replace each other at times, we might think that this is an aberrantly-plumaged bird. But, the bird is fairly typical, for both the time and the place ("place" in a fairly large sense; more on this, below).
So, with the knowledge or assumption that the plumage is typical, let's start with the long list of ABA-area birds that have extensive unmarked red on the head and chest. Oh, that list is actually pretty short, with a sapsucker, a few tanagers, and some finches. Removing the species that don't sport bright yellow bellies restricts us to the Piranga tanagers. As a quick aside, this genus has been shown to not be tanagers (family Thraupidae) at all, but cardinalids (family Cardinalidae), as noted in the most recent supplement to the A.O.U. Check-list of North American Birds (http://www.aou.org/checklist/suppl/AOU_checklist_suppl_50.pdf), a change that has not been incorporated into the ABA online checklist. Yes, that means that the ABA area has lost ALL of its breeding Thraupidae, with only Spindalis now representing this huge neotropical family here, and that as a casual vagrant (though note that Western Spindalis bred in Florida this year (http://birding.typepad.com/peeps/2009/09/index.html).
The Sibley Guide and recent editions of the National Geographic Society guide illustrate plumages quite similar to that exhibited by our quiz bird amongst the various Summer Tanager plumages presented. It might seem odd, however, that none of the other members of the genus represented in these guides seem to sport such an intermediate plumage. However, closer scrutiny of our bird confirms the identification as a Summer Tanager because of the more orange (vs. brick) aspect of the red plumage, the lack of a grayish auricular patch, and the presence of a single red rectrix: the left outermost (on the right side of the picture). The first two features rule out Hepatic Tanager, the last does the job for Scarlet Tanager. Hepatic would also show a darker bill and Scarlet blacker wings.
In Colorado, most of the (presumed) overshooting spring migrants found are immature males in plumage very much like this bird's and the species is well-known for appearing on the breeding grounds in their first spring looking like this. On the other hand, immature males of the other Pirangas don't exhibit this trait, managing to complete their first pre-alternate molt on the winter grounds. The trait is also well-known in the blue buntings (note the lack of capitals!), genus Passerina, that are long-distance migrants, particularly in Blue Grosbeak and Indigo Bunting. I find it most interesting that those species are also cardinalids. This fact might provide another wee bit of evidence supporting the A.O.U.'s recent decision to move Piranga into the Cardinalidae. I took this picture of a molting immature male Summer Tanager at the famous Chico Basin Ranch, Pueblo Co., CO, on 6 May 2007.
The following people (listed by submission date beginning with the earliest) submitted correct answers for the October Bird Photo Quiz—Summer Tanager:
The following list shows the number of submissions for each species guessed.
The photo and answer for this quiz were supplied by Tony Leukering.