Western TanagerPiranga ludoviciana

adult male, breeding
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Glenn Bartley/VIREO
adult female
Brian E. Small/VIREO
adult male, breeding
Brian E. Small/VIREO
juvenile male (1st spring)
Brian E. Small/VIREO

Family

Description

A western counterpart to the Scarlet Tanager, this species occurs in summer farther north than any other tanager -- far up into northwestern Canada. Western Tanagers nest in coniferous forests of the north and the high mountains, but during migration they may show up in any habitat, including grassland and desert; the bright males often draw attention by pausing in suburban yards in late spring.

Habitat

Open conifer or mixed forests; widespread in migration. Breeds mostly in the high mountains or the North, in forest of spruce, fir, pine, aspen, rarely in lower elevation woods mostly of oak. In migration may occur in any habitat, even desert. Winters in the tropics mostly in pine-oak woods or forest edge. In California, may winter in eucalyptus groves.

Feeding Diet

Mostly insects, some fruit and berries. Feeds mainly on insects, including wasps, bees, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, termites, cicadas. Also feeds on many berries, such as mulberries and elderberries, and takes some cultivated fruit.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in tops of trees. Usually feeds deliberately, peering about slowly for insects in foliage. Also flies out to catch insects in mid-air. Regularly visits flowers, probably to feed both on nectar and on insects found there.

Nesting

Male sings during late spring and summer to defend nesting territory. Early stages of courtship may involve male chasing female among the trees. Nest site is usually in coniferous tree such as fir or pine, sometimes in aspen, oak, or other deciduous tree. Usually placed at a fork in a horizontal branch well out from the trunk, and 15-65' above the ground, rarely lower. Nest (probably built mostly by female) is a shallow open cup made of twigs, grass, rootlets, lined with animal hair and fine rootlets. Eggs: 3-5. Pale blue or bluish green, with brown blotches sometimes concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13 days. Young: Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching.

Eggs

3-5. Pale blue or bluish green, with brown blotches sometimes concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13 days. Young: Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching.

Young

Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching.

Conservation

Widespread and common, with no indication of declining numbers.

Range

Protracted migration lasts late in spring and begins early in fall, with some birds seen away from breeding areas as late as mid-June and as early as mid-July.

Listen

short songs & calls #1
dawn song
immature calls
calls #1
calls #2
short songs & call #2

Similar Species

adult male, Western

Yellow-breasted Chat

A bizarre series of hoots, whistles, and clucks, coming from the briar tangles, announces the presence of the Yellow-breasted Chat. The bird is often hard to see, but sometimes it launches into the air to sing its odd song as it flies, with floppy wingbeats and dangling legs, above the thickets. This is our largest warbler, and surely the strangest as well, seeming to suggest a cross between a warbler and a Mockingbird.

adult male

Hepatic Tanager

In mountain forests of the Southwest, this tanager is fairly common in summer among the pines and oaks. Members of a pair are often found foraging together, moving about rather slowly in the tall pines as they search deliberately for insects in the foliage. The name "Hepatic" is a reference to the color of the male, a more liver-red or duller shade than that of our other red tanagers.

adult male, breeding

Scarlet Tanager

Male Scarlet Tanagers seem almost too bright and exotic for northeastern woodlands. These birds are fairly common in oak forests in summer, but they often remain out of sight as they forage in the leafy upper branches. Sometimes in spring, when the Scarlet Tanagers have just arrived from their winter home in South America, a late freeze will force them out in the open as they search for insects on roadsides or in gardens.

adult male, Eastern

Summer Tanager

A languid song in southern woods, sounding like a lazy robin, is the voice of the Summer Tanager. Seeing the bird may require some patience, because it usually moves rather slowly in the treetops, often remaining hidden among the leaves. At times, however, it flies out conspicuously to catch flying insects in mid-air. This bird apparently has no fear of stinging insects, often raiding wasp nests and occasionally becoming a minor nuisance around beehives.

adult male, breeding

American Goldfinch

A typical summer sight is a male American Goldfinch flying over a meadow, flashing golden in the sun, calling perchickory as it bounds up and down in flight. In winter, when males and females alike are colored in subtler brown, flocks of goldfinches congregate in weedy fields and at feeders, making musical and plaintive calls. In most regions this is a late nester, beginning to nest in mid-summer, perhaps to assure a peak supply of late-summer seeds for feeding its young.

adult male

Flame-colored Tanager

Native to mountain forests of Mexico and Central America, this tanager was never found in our area until 1985, when a male spent the breeding season in Arizona's Chiricahua Mountains, paired with a female Western Tanager. Since then the species has appeared several more times in Arizona and has nested there more than once.

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