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Western Tanager western tanager

Identification and Pictures

(Piranga ludoviciana)western tanager male

Western tanagers are medium sized songbirds, about 6 1/4 to 7 1/2 inches.  The males stand out with their striking colors.  They are yellow with black wings, and tail, and a red head.  The wings have two white or yellow wing bars.  They have short, thick, pointed bills, and the legs, and feet are gray.  The red pigment of the male is a result of his diet of insects and he will lose most it in autumn.  The females and juveniles are dull greenish above, and olive-gray back, yellow below, with a whitish belly, and white or yellow wing bars.  Females are sometimes mistaken for female orioles, which have thinner bills, and longer tails.  The tanager's flight is swift, and direct with rapid beating wings.

     western tanager female

Photo by Keith Lee.  The camera I use is the Canon EOS 40D.


The Western tanager song is short phrases, somewhat like the American robin.  They also have a call that sounds like pre-tee-tic, and chip. sound  sound 2

Preferred Habitat

They can be found in the western half of the U.S.  Their preferred habitat is open conifer, or mixed forests.  They migrate south to southern California, Mexico, and into Central America for winter.  They migrate at night, and travel at high altitudes.

Breeding and Nesting

During courtship the male will chase the female through the trees.  Western tanagers are monogamous.  The female builds a cup-shaped nest of twigs, grass, and bark lined with hair, and rootlets on a tree branch.  The female will incubate 3 to 5 blue spotted eggs for about 13 days.  Both parents feed, and care for the young, which fledge in around 11 days.  The young birds will stay near the parents for about two more weeks.


Their diets consist of insects, fruits, and berries.  They forage in trees and shrubs, also catching insects in the air.  They are often hard to see since they like to forage high in the trees. 

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