|Species: Western Tanager
Among the dazzling
array of neo-tropical migrants that pass through Vancouver in the
spring, none can quite match the splendour of our Western Tanager.
Clad in brilliant yellow and red, the experience of watching a flock
of these stunning birds move through a grove of fresh leaved alders
is to feel momentarily transported to some tropical paradise
(without the cost of air fare).
Despite striking red, yellow, and black markings, the Western
Tanager is a surprisingly inconspicuous bird of the western
coniferous and mixed deciduous/coniferous forests more often heard
than seen. An adult is slightly smaller than a robin, 7.25” long
with an 11.5” wingspan, weighing an average of 28 grams. An
always-yellowish body contrasts with dark wings and white wingbars.
Smaller than a
robin, 7.25” long with an 11.5” wingspan. An always yellowish body
contrasts with dark wings and white wingbars. Large eyes contribute
to a “gentle” expression.
In breeding plumage the adult male is one of our most spectacular
birds, sporting a bright red head and a vivid yellow body,
contrasted smartly with black wings, tail, and back. White wingbars
and a yellow rump put the finishing touches on this bird of
impeccable flair. The non-breeding male has forfeited the red from
his head (but may still retain it on his lores and forehead) and
though his yellow has become more subdued he remains more vividly
coloured than his now disinterested paramour.
A Subtly coloured bird, the female tanager has a yellow-grey body
and darker grey-black wings. It is hard to imagine that the
brilliantly coloured males see anything of interest in her subdued
plumage, though perhaps her mate has a more discerning eye for her
charms than the easily bedazzled birder.
Juvenile: Nearly identical to female.
A female/non-breeding Bullock’s Oriole (Icterus bullockii) looks
very similar: however the head and beak are differently shaped with
the oriole having a thinner more pointed bill and a black eyeline.
Forages slowly and deliberately though the trees, also hawks for
flying insects in mid-air.
Breeds in coniferous forests, but in migration they can be found in
nearly any treed area including urban parks and gardens.
As one would guess
from its vibrant plumage the Western Tanager comes to us from the
neo-tropics and returns there diligently each fall. The diet is
primarily insects but also includes fruit. Its song resembles a
but like all inhabitants of our coastal and boreal forests continued
deforestation could well pose a grave threat to their survival.
Western Tanager preferred habitat is open coniferous or
mixed coniferous-deciduous forests. They are therefore not
seen in high numbers directly around our banding station
except during the periods of May/June and August/September.
Capture rates (2010-2012; standardized as birds captured per
100 net hours) during these periods reflect dispersal
to/from breeding areas when fruit and other food is
especially plentiful. Tanagers are medium distance migrants,
moving south for the winter as seen by our zero capture
rates between October and April.