Migrating Western Tanagers

May 23, 2018

The Western Tanager, another one of our beautiful Neotropical birds, is usually seen in our area during spring migration. This tanager ranges farther north than any other tanager and can be found all the way into Canada, breeding in open coniferous and mixed woodlands forests. Because some of its breeding range is snow-bound into late spring, Western Tanagers take their time moving north and sometimes linger for weeks in Southern California.  Because of this behavior, large numbers may appear in city parks, open areas and even our yards.  We have seen over 30 individuals in the garden this year.

If you inspect the photo below you will find 9 birds either bathing or getting ready to bathe in the garden’s lower water feature. Seven Western Tanagers, one Black-headed Grosbeak and one Nashville Warbler all together at one time – not a bad day of L.A. bird watching!

During most of the year, fruits and berries make up the majority of Western Tanagers diet. During breeding season they feed predominantly on insect. Interestingly, this species of tanager must rely on an external source of pigment for its bright red feathers (it can’t produce the color itself). It is presumed the pigment comes from insects that have themselves acquired pigments from plants they have previously eaten.

Adult male Western Tanager – Piranga ludoviciana

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