Western Tanager

Piranga ludoviciana

Male and Female Western Tanager, photographed by me


The 2nd most colorful tanager in the U.S.! The Western Tanager goes from its breeding grounds in the U.S. and Canada, to its wintering grounds in Mexico and Central America. We have tanagers at our cabin up rock creek every summer. I once said ‘Those male tanagers look like stars in a green night’.


Male Western Tanagers are the stars of the show (or maybe I should say the woods!). With red heads; black, white, and yellow wings; and yellow bellies, male tanagers flash through the forest of western North America. Females are a dullish brown and green with a yellow tinge to the head and belly.

Tanager contour feather I found in a nest


Two days ago I found my first tanager nest. I was excited because I thought they were too high in the tree for me to see. I found the nest when I was least expecting it. I wasn’t even looking for nests, only looking at the active robin nest on the little cabin. All of a sudden there was a noise above me, I looked up to see what it was. It was a tanager nest! A male had landed and was calling to the female on the nest. I ran down to tell Papa who was splitting wood with Lucy.

Female Western Tanager in the nest.

Nest Q&A

How many eggs are in the nest / Up to 3 or 4 eggs are laid by the female.

What do they look like? / Western Tanager eggs are white with brown speckles.

Where are the nests in the tree? / The nest I saw was about in the middle of the tree.

What do the nests look like? / They are about the size of a small plate and very thin


Have you ever heard of a salmon fly? If you haven’t, they are giant stoneflies that climb out of the river every June. They are about 2 inches long so in the beginning it was hard for me to believe that tanagers could even eat them. But last weekend when I was taking pictures by the sauna I saw a female tanager fly down with a salmon fly in her beak. The next day I saw another female tanager put her salmon fly on the branch and then a male swooped down and tried to grab it from her! The salmon flies are so big that you can see their wings in the sunlight if the light hits them at just the right angle.


The Western Tanager is classified like this:

Kingdom: Animalia

Phylum: Chordata

Class: Aves

Order: Passeriformes

Family: Cardinalidae

Genus: Piranga

Species: Piranga loduviciana

Fun facts


  • Western Tanagers can go all the way from Alaska to the tip of Panama!
  • In the winter, male Western tanagers only molt their red head feathers.

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