Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

A vibrant yellow, black, and red bird perched on top of a small branch

Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana)

Western Tanagers are a species of small passerine birds found in forested, mountainous areas from Alaska to Panama.  On average, they are about 7 inches long with an 11-inch wingspan, and typically weigh 28 grams. As with many species of songbirds, the males are much more vibrantly colored than their female counterparts. Males are easily identifiable by their bright yellow body, reddish-orange head, black back and wings, and white wing bars. The females have an olive-green body and head, with grey wings and white wing bars.

Western tanagers typically spend winters in the tropical forests of Central America. They are monogamous and will form pairs either in their wintering grounds or during migration. When they arrive in their breeding grounds in April or May, they establish territories that they defend with songs and by chasing out rival males. While they mostly catch and eat insects in flight, they have also been known to eat fruits and nectar from plants.

Most birds with red plumage get their coloration from plant pigments called carotenoids, but Western Tanagers get their scarlet coloration from a rarer pigment known as rhodoxanthin. It is thought that they obtain this pigment from insects in their diet. Learn more about these pristine passerines.

Written by Timothy Uttenhove
PC: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region on Flickr https://flic.kr/p/9C1gCY