The Western Tanager

Male Western Tanager

Male Western Tanager

In this post you’ll learn a lot of cool facts like how to identify their nest, how to tell the difference between male and female Western Tanagers, plus hopefully new information to you about their behavior, habitat, diet and more!

Identifying Them:

This American Songbird is part of the Tanager Family (Thraupidae) but is now placed in the Cardinal family (Cardinalidae). You may not be able to see, but the Western Tanager has a yellow chest and stomach. What you can see, if its a male, is his red head. Female Western Tanagers don’t have that bright red head, they have a light-brown head and chest, and a yellow-brown stomach. Another difference between the male and female is that males have blackish-grey wings and tail feathers and females have grey wings.

Female Western Tanager

Female Western Tanager Photo By Jerry Friedman


Western Tanagers live in most of Western America. They love to live in high land, and will sometimes breed in areas that are up to 10,000 feet in elevation, but it varies and can be as low as 400-500 feet in Washington and 8,300 feet in Oregon, where I live. Western Tanager are in the United States for summer breeding and winter migration, so they don’t live here year round.

During migration you may find them in all kinds of forests, but normally, like Cedar Waxwings, you may find them on a berry tree in an open woodland.


They fly with great strength and hover a couple of seconds at a time. Like most songbirds, their beautiful sing-song voice is quite loud and high-pitched for their small bodies, and the time that you don’t see them plucking food from trees and flowers, you will see the male claiming his territory by endless singing. The pair is almost always together, whether they are fighting off other birds from the nest, or eating, during which the male usually feeds her near the nest.

Nesting and Nestlings:

Western Tanagers nest in the canopies of large trees, people have sighted them nesting upon varieties of trees like Douglas fir, White fir and Pine trees.

Females build their entire nest while the male watches and monitors her. Starting with the bottom, she lays out twigs and then weaves in roots and branches to make it very sturdy. She then puts twigs around the sides to build up a wall and lines the inside with various fibers to make it soft and comfortable for her young. She puts feathers, moss, horse and cow hair, grasses, pine needles and sometimes bark shavings. All of this is to keep the eggs warm and they don’t want any harsh twigs to stab and pierce the eggshells. Building this nest can take up to 6 days or as few as 4.

The female Western Tanager usually has about 4 eggs that are bluish-white and have light brown specks. The incubation period is about 13 days, (songbirds usually have short incubation period but owls and raptors have a longer incubation period that usually lasts an entire month). After the eggs hatch, the male and female feed their nestlings for 14-16 days, feeding them various types of bugs. They often will feed them bees, which you might think would be painful because you won’t want to eat something with a stinger, but the father will carefully take off the bee’s stinger and then feed to their babies and then after that they are ready to fly.


These colorful birds are omnivores and eat bugs and berries. To be more specific, they prefer caterpillars, wasps, bees, beetles, dragonflies, ants and other winged insects. In the fruit category, they eat cherries, elderberries, blackberries, mulberries and other fruits. For the winged insects they eat, they will clip off their wings and sometimes their feet and head.

These songbirds will also come to your feeders, mostly during the winter time. One great way you can attract them to your backyard and or garden is by adding a bird bath or some kind of water which will attract insects for them to eat. To learn more about attracting birds to your backyard go to:


Special thanks to for the photo of the male Western Tanager and to Jerry Friedman for the photo of the female Western Tanger.




About faithelise

I love learning about species of birds and want to be an Ornathologist. Writing about birds is my passion and I love every part of it!
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