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Western Tanager


IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A clear look at a male Western Tanager is like looking at a flame: an orange-red head, brilliant yellow body, and coal-black wings, back and tail. Females and immatures are a somewhat dimmer yellow-green and blackish. These birds live in open woods all over the West, particularly among evergreens, where they often stay hidden in the canopy. Nevertheless, they’re a quintessential woodland denizen in summertime, where they fill the woods with their short, burry song and low, chuckling call notes.


Male Western Tanagers sing a short, rasping song that lasts about 2.5 seconds and consists of a few short, burry up-and-down phrases, sometimes likened to the bird asking and answering a series of rapid-fire questions. The song is reminiscent of an American Robin’s song but usually shorter and hoarser or raspier in tone.


The most common call of the Western Tanager is a short, 2-3 note chuckling or rattling call, similar to a Summer Tanager’s call.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Although they don’t typically eat seeds, Western Tanagers may eat dried fruit, freshly cut oranges, and other fresh fruit at bird feeders. If you live in a wooded area within this bird’s range, providing moving water or a birdbath or pond may help attract them to your yard.

Find This Bird

Western Tanagers are common in western conifer forests during the breeding season. Look for them in fairly open conifer forests. They can be hard to see despite the males’ bright colors, so listen for a loud, hoarse, rising-and-following song of two-, three-, or four-note phrases. They also have a distinctive chuckling or rattling call similar to the Summer Tanager’s call. They usually forage in the upper parts of conifers, so watch those treetops carefully. In migration and on winter grounds, the species is usually found in small flocks, often mixed with other tanager species or with Black-headed Grosbeaks.



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bird image Blue-winged Warbler by Brian Sullivan

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