occurs (regularly, as a native taxon) in multiple nations
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Regularity: Regularly occurring
Type of Residency: Breeding
Global Range: BREEDING: southeastern Alaska, through western Canada south through western U.S. to northern Baja California, southern Nevada, southwestern Utah, Arizona, southern New Mexico, and western Texas (one questionable record for southern Wisconsin). NON-BREEDING: southern Baja California and central mainland of Mexico south to Costa Rica (rarely southern U.S.), casually to western Panama.
- Clements, J. F., T. S. Schulenberg, M. J. Iliff, D. Roberson, T. A. Fredericks, B. L. Sullivan, and C. L. Wood. 2014. The eBird/Clements checklist of birds of the world: Version 6.9. Downloaded from http://www.birds.cornell.edu/clementschecklist/download/
The breeding range of the western tanager, as described by literature reviews and field guides, includes forests along the western coast of North America from southeastern Alaska south to northern Baja California. Western tanagers extend east to western Texas and north through central New Mexico, central Colorado, extreme northwest Nebraska, and areas of western South Dakota to southern Northwest Territories, Canada [28,54,58,117]. Reviews report the western tanager's wintering range as stretching from central Costa Rica north through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to southern Baja California Sur and extreme southeastern Sonora in western Mexico and to southern Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico. Western tanagers do not typically occur in the Caribbean lowlands. They have been reported wintering further north and have been observed as far south as Panama [28,54,58,117]. Accidentals are rare to casual in the eastern United States [117,129]. A general map of the western tanager's distribution can be found at Cornell's All About Birds website.
The following lists are speculative and are based on western tanager distribution information and the habitat characteristics and species composition of communities western tanagers are known to occupy during migration and breeding. There is not conclusive evidence that western tanagers occur in all the habitat types listed and some community types, especially nonconiferous habitats, may have been omitted. Abundance of western tanagers in the community types listed is variable. Western tanagers are rarely observed in some of the following communities and are quite common in others. See Preferred Habitat for more detail.
States or Provinces
Regional Distribution in the Western United States
This species can be found in the following regions of the western United States (according to the Bureau of Land Management classification of Physiographic Regions of the western United States):
BLM PHYSIOGRAPHIC REGIONS :
1 Northern Pacific Border
2 Cascade Mountains
3 Southern Pacific Border
4 Sierra Mountains
5 Columbia Plateau
6 Upper Basin and Range
7 Lower Basin and Range
8 Northern Rocky Mountains
9 Middle Rocky Mountains
10 Wyoming Basin
11 Southern Rocky Mountains
12 Colorado Plateau
13 Rocky Mountain Piedmont
15 Black Hills Uplift
16 Upper Missouri Basin and Broken Lands
Length: 18 cm
Weight: 28 grams
Catalog Number: USNM 262925
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): A. Howell
Year Collected: 1918
Locality: Santa Rita Mountains, Madera Canyon, Santa Cruz, Arizona, United States, North America
- Type: Oberholser. September 23, 1974. Bird Life Of Texas. ii: 845, 847.
Habitat and Ecology
Comments: Breeds mostly in coniferous and mixed mountain woodlands. Migrates and winters in a variety of forest, woodland, scrub and partly open habitats (Terres 1980). Usually nests in conifer, on outer portion of limb, 3-20 m above ground (Terres 1980).
Habitat: Rangeland Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following Rangeland Cover Types (as classified by the Society for Range Management, SRM):
More info for the terms: cover, forb, shrub
SRM (RANGELAND) COVER TYPES :
107 Western juniper/big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass
109 Ponderosa pine shrubland
110 Ponderosa pine-grassland
201 Blue oak woodland
202 Coast live oak woodland
203 Riparian woodland
206 Chamise chaparral
211 Creosote bush scrub
216 Montane meadows
304 Idaho fescue-bluebunch wheatgrass
314 Big sagebrush-bluebunch wheatgrass
315 Big sagebrush-Idaho fescue
316 Big sagebrush-rough fescue
402 Mountain big sagebrush
409 Tall forb
411 Aspen woodland
412 Juniper-pinyon woodland
413 Gambel oak
418 Bigtooth maple
503 Arizona chaparral
504 Juniper-pinyon pine woodland
505 Grama-tobosa shrub
509 Transition between oak-juniper woodland and mahogany-oak association
Habitat: Cover Types
This species is known to occur in association with the following cover types (as classified by the Society of American Foresters):
More info for the term: cover
SAF COVER TYPES :
201 White spruce
202 White spruce-paper birch
203 Balsam poplar
204 Black spruce
205 Mountain hemlock
206 Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir
207 Red fir
208 Whitebark pine
210 Interior Douglas-fir
211 White fir
212 Western larch
213 Grand fir
215 Western white pine
216 Blue spruce
218 Lodgepole pine
219 Limber pine
220 Rocky Mountain juniper
221 Red alder
222 Black cottonwood-willow
223 Sitka spruce
224 Western hemlock
225 Western hemlock-Sitka spruce
226 Coastal true fir-hemlock
227 Western redcedar-western hemlock
228 Western redcedar
229 Pacific Douglas-fir
230 Douglas-fir-western hemlock
233 Oregon white oak
234 Douglas-fir-tanoak-Pacific madrone
237 Interior ponderosa pine
238 Western juniper
240 Arizona cypress
241 Western live oak
243 Sierra Nevada mixed conifer
244 Pacific ponderosa pine-Douglas-fir
245 Pacific ponderosa pine
246 California black oak
247 Jeffrey pine
248 Knobcone pine
249 Canyon live oak
250 Blue oak-foothills pine
251 White spruce-aspen
252 Paper birch
253 Black spruce-white spruce
254 Black spruce-paper birch
255 California coast live oak
256 California mixed subalpine
Habitat: Plant Associations
This species is known to occur in association with the following plant community types (as classified by Küchler 1964):
More info for the term: shrub
KUCHLER  PLANT ASSOCIATIONS:
K001 Spruce-cedar-hemlock forest
K002 Cedar-hemlock-Douglas-fir forest
K003 Silver fir-Douglas-fir forest
K004 Fir-hemlock forest
K005 Mixed conifer forest
K006 Redwood forest
K007 Red fir forest
K008 Lodgepole pine-subalpine forest
K009 Pine-cypress forest
K010 Ponderosa shrub forest
K011 Western ponderosa forest
K012 Douglas-fir forest
K013 Cedar-hemlock-pine forest
K014 Grand fir-Douglas-fir forest
K015 Western spruce-fir forest
K016 Eastern ponderosa forest
K017 Black Hills pine forest
K018 Pine-Douglas-fir forest
K019 Arizona pine forest
K020 Spruce-fir-Douglas-fir forest
K021 Southwestern spruce-fir forest
K022 Great Basin pine forest
K023 Juniper-pinyon woodland
K024 Juniper steppe woodland
K025 Alder-ash forest
K026 Oregon oakwoods
K028 Mosaic of K002 and K026
K029 California mixed evergreen forest
K030 California oakwoods
K031 Oak-juniper woodland
K032 Transition between K031 and K037
K034 Montane chaparral
K035 Coastal sagebrush
K036 Mosaic of K030 and K035
K037 Mountain-mahogany-oak scrub
K038 Great Basin sagebrush
K041 Creosote bush
K044 Creosote bush-tarbush
K053 Grama-galleta steppe
K055 Sagebrush steppe
K056 Wheatgrass-needlegrass shrubsteppe
K057 Galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe
K058 Grama-tobosa shrubsteppe
K063 Foothills prairie
This species is known to occur in the following ecosystem types (as named by the U.S. Forest Service in their Forest and Range Ecosystem [FRES] Type classification):
FRES21 Ponderosa pine
FRES22 Western white pine
FRES24 Hemlock-Sitka spruce
FRES26 Lodgepole pine
FRES28 Western hardwoods
FRES30 Desert shrub
FRES34 Chaparral-mountain shrub
FRES36 Mountain grasslands
FRES37 Mountain meadows
Associated Plant Communities
Western tanagers have also been observed in saltcedar (Tamarix spp.) communities [32,136] and in Russian-olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) vegetation [62,136]. In New Mexico, western tanagers were observed in nearly pure stands of saltcedar 10 to 23 feet (3-7 m) tall . Western tanagers were also observed in saltcedar communities during fall migration in along the Rio Grande . Ten western tanagers were observed among 3 sites composed of Russian-olive in Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. All sites were dominated by Russian-olive with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) comprising a substantial portion of the understory . Along the Rio Grande western tanagers were most often captured during fall migration in vegetation with a Rio Grande cottonwood (Populus deltoides ssp. wislizenii) overstory and a moderate to dense Russian-olive understory .
Non-Migrant: No. All populations of this species make significant seasonal migrations.
Locally Migrant: No. No populations of this species make local extended movements (generally less than 200 km) at particular times of the year (e.g., to breeding or wintering grounds, to hibernation sites).
Locally Migrant: Yes. At least some populations of this species make annual migrations of over 200 km.
Arrives in U.S. April-May (Terres 1980). Arrives in southern winter range late October, departs in April (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Comments: Feeds on a wide variety of insects and fruit.
According to several reviews, western tanager obtain their food by foliage gleaning and hawking [28,54,58]. The degree to which each of these methods is used apparently varies across locations. For instance, in a California mixed conifer-oak forest consisting mainly of white fir, Douglas-fir, incense-cedar, and California black oak, about 47% of western tanager foraging observations were gleaning, about 40% were hawking, while lunging and hovering occurred in about 6% and 7% of observations, respectively . In contrast, in the mainly Douglas-fir dominated communities of interior British Columbia, gleaning comprised 93.2% of western tanager foraging observations. Hawking only occurred in 3.7% of observations and hovering in 3.1% .
Western tanagers primarily glean from foliage. In the mixed conifer-oak woodland of California, 45% of western tanager foraging observations were foliage gleaning. Western tanagers gleaned from twigs in 10% of observations and from branches in 5% of observations. Hawking comprised the remainder of western tanager foraging observations . In British Columbia, 88.3% of gleaning observations occurred on foliage, 10.5% on branches and twigs, and 1.2% on trunks .
Western tanagers eat fruits and a wide range of insects. A field guide states that western tanager's diet is about 18% plant matter and 82% insects . According to a literature review, fruits eaten by western tanagers include hawthorn apples (Crataegus spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), mulberries (Morus spp.), elderberries (Sambucus spp.), serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), and wild and cultivated cherries (Prunus spp.) [54,58,75]. Western tanagers have been observed foraging on Perry's agave (Agave parryi) nectar . Reports of western tanager eating Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) nectar, Russian-olive fruits, and human-provided food, including bird seed and dried fruit, were summarized in a review . A literature review asserts that western tanagers are major consumers of western spruce budworms (Choristoneura occidentalis) , and they have been observed eating Douglas-fir tussock moth larvae (Orgyia pseudotsugata) . A study summarized in literature reviews [54,58] found 75% of insects in western tanager stomachs in August were Hymenopterans, mostly wasps and ants. The other insects observed were beetles (Coleoptera,12%), mainly click beetles (Elateridae) and woodborers (Bupestridae), true bugs (Hemipterans, 8%), grasshoppers (Orthoptera, 4%) and caterpillars (Lepidoptera, 2%).
Several birds prey on western tanagers. Remains of a western tanager were found in a red-tailed hawk's (Buteo jamaicensis) nest in Colorado . In southwestern Idaho, western tanager remains were reported in 1 of over 170 prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus) nests observed . According to literature reviews, northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis), Mexican spotted owls (Strix occidentalis spp. lucida), sharp-shinned hawks (A. striatus) and Cooper's hawks (A. cooperii) are also western tanager predators [54,100,132]. One review asserts that accipiter hawks (Accipitrinae) and jays (Corvidae) are the major predators of western tanagers. This review also includes a report of a domestic cat (Felis catus) preying on a female western tanager in British Columbia .
According to literature reviews, Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana), northern pygmy-owls (Glaucidium gnoma), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), and jays such as scrub jays (Aphelocoma spp.), pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) and Steller's jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are typical avian predators of western tanager nests. Other reported nest predators include black bears (Ursus americanus), prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis), and bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer) 
Western tanager nests are parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus aster) [36,40]. Parasitism rates can be high , and parasitism has been shown to dramatically reduce the number of western tanagers fledged per nest . A literature review summarizes information related to western tanager nest parasitism .BEHAVIOR:
According to literature reviews, western tanagers migrate alone or in groups of up to 30 birds [54,58]. On average, hatching-year western tanagers were captured later (early-Sept) at Rio Grande Nature Center than adult western tanagers (mid-August) during fall migration. Migration timing, condition of birds, and site differences in spring and fall migration were also addressed in this investigation .
A literature review provides a detailed summary of migration and other behaviors such as vocalizations, territoriality, and self-maintenance .
Known prey organisms
This list may not be complete but is based on published studies.
Solitary in winter (Stiles and Skutch 1989).
Habitat-related Fire Effects
Despite several articles that discuss the effect of fire on western tanagers, results should be interpreted with caution. As noted by a literature review summarizing songbird responses to fire in southwestern ponderosa pine forests , there are several limitations to many studies addressing bird response to fire. Most studies are restricted in spatial or temporal scale. Many are opportunistic, include confounding factors, and/or lack sufficient replication. There is also a lack of studies that compare demographic parameters of western tanager between burned and unburned vegetation, which is necessary to determine if a site is meeting the needs of western tanagers .
Reviews that address the effect of fire on western tanager demonstrate that several different responses have been observed [47,63,108]. However, it is possible that fire severity explains a considerable portion of the observed variation. It appears that western tanagers generally respond positively to low-severity fire and negatively to high- severity fire.
Western tanager abundance has been observed to increase after low- to moderate-severity fire [19,21,116]. Western tanager was significantly (p<0.05) more abundant in the year after prescribed underburns in a ponderosa pine forest and pine-grassland ecotone of Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota compared to unburned sites . Abundance of western tanager was much greater (103 detections) on a site moderately affected by wildfire in ponderosa pine forests in Arizona than on an unburned site (20 detections) . In low- to mid-elevation conifer communities of western Montana, western tanagers were significantly (p=0.005) more abundant after wildfire resulted in <20% tree mortality than before the wildfire occurred. Western tanager abundance did not increase significantly (p>0.05) on sites subject to moderate (20%-80% tree mortality) wildfire. The differences ((after fire mean minus before fire mean) x 100) in western tanagers detected before and after fire at unburned points and points that burned at low (<20% tree mortality), moderate (20%-80% tree mortality) or high severity (>80% tree mortality) are shown in the table below (sx is in parentheses) .
|Unburned (n=120)||Low (n=52)||Moderate (n=32)||Severe (n=38)|
|after fire mean - before fire mean||2.4 (5.2)||23.9 (7.3)||12.1 (8.9)||-15.4 (8.6)|
Much of the evidence for decreases in western tanager abundance comes from investigations of high- severity fires. In coniferous forests of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, western tanagers occurred at higher densities on unburned sites (up to 15 western tanagers/100 acres) and moderately burned sites ≤3 years old (up to 10 western tanagers/100 acres) than in areas that had burned in severe fires 2 and 3 years previously, where western tanagers were only observed outside of transects . In the Sierra Nevada of California, western tanager occurred at higher densities in unburned (0.75-1.5 pairs/plot) mixed-coniferous vegetation dominated by Jeffrey pine and white fir than on sites that burned in the stand-replacing Donner Ridge Fire 6 to 8 years earlier (0-0.25 pair/plot). The burned sites were comprised of small pockets of Jeffrey pine and white fir along with post-fire vegetation such as woolly mule-ears (Wyethia >mollis), golden current (Ribes aureum), and greenleaf manzanita (Arctostaphylos patula) . The trend on this site continued through 1985, with western tanager occurring at a density of 0.2 territory/plot in the burned area 15 years after the fire and 1.7 territories/plot in unburned vegetation dominated by Jeffrey pine, ponderosa pine, Washoe pine (P. washoensis), their intermediates, and white fir . Although the response was not significant (p>0.05), western tanager abundance declined after severe (>80% tree mortality) wildfire in coniferous forests on low- to mid-elevation sites in western Montana . A literature review that summarized the findings of 11 published and unpublished studies reported that western tanagers were more abundant on unburned sites than on 23 severely-burned conifer forest sites .
Studies incorporating a range of fire severities have found fire resulted in no change in western tanager abundance. For instance, in ponderosa pine-dominated forests in northern Arizona and New Mexico, western tanager did not respond to low to moderate severity prescribed burns and wildfire. The average western tanager detections over the 4 years before a prescribed burn (2.75) in Arizona were similar to the year after the fire (3.00). Average western tanager detections before a wildfire (16) on a New Mexico site were not substantially different from detections in the 2 years after the burn (13.5) . Western tanagers response to high-severity surface fires in white fir and red fir communities of Yosemite National Park were inconclusive . In ponderosa pine forests in Arizona, 24 western tanagers were detected on sites 3 years after they were severely burned, while 20 were detected on an adjacent unburned site .
Habitat type is likely to influence western tanager's response to fire. Since western tanagers appear to occur at relatively low abundance in dense forests [12,38,51] and are generally rare on very open sites such as clearcuts [25,49,128], sagebrush communities, and grasslands , fires that reduce tree density without dropping below some threshold may favor western tanagers. In pinyon-juniper communities of east-central Nevada, western tanagers were more abundant on a prescribed burn site than an unburned site before the burn, but were absent on the prescribed burn site after burning. In this habitat, burned areas were mainly low and herbaceous, while unburned areas were multi-layered and woody [76,77]. In addition, different western tanager responses to wildfire in different communities were reported in Grand Teton National Park. Western tanager was more abundant during the breeding season on a riparian-coniferous forest ecotone where the forest had burned in a wildfire 2 years previously than on a similar ecotone site that had not burned. However, in a sagebrush-coniferous forest ecotone western tanager breeding season abundance was greater on the unburned site than the site where the forest had burned 2 years previously . According to a literature review, western tanagers occur more often in unburned than severely burned ponderosa pine forest, but are more common after stand-replacing fires in lodgepole pine communities than dense lodgepole pine forest .
Several factors including time since burn, occurrence of salvage logging, and fire characteristics such as size, frequency, uniformity, and season of burn are likely to influence western tanager response. However, little data are available on these factors and the type, size, and duration of their impacts on western tanager are largely unknown.
The effect of time since burn is uncertain. Nesting requirements (see Nesting habitat) suggest that extensive severe fire could result in long-term declines in western tanagers, due to the time required for large trees to regenerate on a site. However, a literature review found a higher percentage of studies reporting western tanager in early-successional burned forest (83%) than in mid-successional burned forest (20%) .
Salvage logging may also affect western tanagers response. In western Montana coniferous forests, western tanager density was the same in a burned forest salvaged logged to a density of 855 trees/ha, as in the unlogged burned forest with a tree density of 970/ha. However, western tanager did not occur on a salvage-logged site where a 70-ha clearcut and a 70-ha thinning to 125 trees/ha were performed after fire, while an average of 4.0 western tanagers/40 ha were observed on the burn site that was not logged (1,043 trees/ha) .
Given the possible importance of spatial arrangement of habitat (see Effects of spatial arrangement/area), the size and patchiness of a burn may also influence western tanager's response to fire. A literature review notes that many species that had mixed responses to fire, which included western tanager, occurred at their highest abundances within 165 feet (50 m) of the edge of burns . In western Montana and northern Wyoming western tanager was negatively associated with size of stand-replacing fire, although the relationship was not significant (p>0.05) . The relationship of fire to several aspects of habitat configuration is discussed in a review of the effects of fire at landscape scales .
Season of the burn may also affect western tanager's response. Although western tanager abundance was uniformly low in a mountain big sagebrush ecosystem (Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana) of Wyoming, the greatest number of detections occurred in the second year following a spring prescribed burn, compared to fall prescribed burn and unburned sites . Since western tanagers appear to prefer moderate to open forest stands (see Stand structure/composition), the fire frequency may affect western tanagers by influencing fire severity and forest structure  .
Very little information is available on the effect fire has on western tanager food resources. Although food available from gleaning foliage is likely to decline due to fire, it has been suggested that western tanager may be able to mitigate at least some of this loss by hawking aerial insects. However, little is known of these insects' response to fire . General information on plant food response to fire can be found in [13,70]
Fire ecology: Western tanagers occur in a variety of habitats with a wide range of FIRE REGIMES. Breeding is most common in coniferous forests, which have FIRE REGIMES that range from frequent low-severity surface fires  to infrequent stand-replacement fires. A literature review provides a general overview of FIRE REGIMES in western coniferous forests .
The following table provides fire return intervals for plant communities and ecosystems where western tanager is important. For further information, see the FEIS review of the dominant species listed below.
|Community or ecosystem||Dominant species||Fire return interval range (years)|
|silver fir-Douglas-fir||Abies amabilis-Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii||>200|
|grand fir||Abies grandis||35-200 |
|sagebrush steppe||Artemisia tridentata/Pseudoroegneria spicata||20-70 |
|mountain big sagebrush||Artemisia tridentata var. vaseyana||15-40 [7,23,85]|
|coastal sagebrush||Artemisia californica||<35 to <100 |
|saltbush-greasewood||Atriplex confertifolia-Sarcobatus vermiculatus||<35 to >100 [93,137]|
|California montane chaparral||Ceanothus and/or Arctostaphylos spp.||50-100 |
|mountain-mahogany-Gambel oak scrub||Cercocarpus ledifolius-Quercus gambelii||<35 to <100|
|blackbrush||Coleogyne ramosissima||<35 to <100|
|western juniper||Juniperus occidentalis||20-70|
|Rocky Mountain juniper||Juniperus scopulorum||<35|
|creosotebush||Larrea tridentata||<35 to <100 |
|Engelmann spruce-subalpine fir||Picea engelmannii-Abies lasiocarpa||35 to >200 |
|black spruce||Picea mariana||35-200 |
|blue spruce*||Picea pungens||35-200 |
|pinyon-juniper||Pinus-Juniperus spp.||<35 |
|whitebark pine*||Pinus albicaulis||50-200 [1,4]|
|Mexican pinyon||Pinus cembroides||20-70 [87,121]|
|Rocky Mountain lodgepole pine*||Pinus contorta var. latifolia||25-340 [10,11,123]|
|Sierra lodgepole pine*||Pinus contorta var. murrayana||35-200 |
|Colorado pinyon||Pinus edulis||10-400+ [37,41,59,93]|
|Jeffrey pine||Pinus jeffreyi||5-30 |
|western white pine*||Pinus monticola||50-200 |
|Pacific ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. ponderosa||1-47 |
|interior ponderosa pine*||Pinus ponderosa var. scopulorum||2-30 [6,9,68]|
|Arizona pine||Pinus ponderosa var. arizonica||2-15 [9,27,113]|
|galleta-threeawn shrubsteppe||Pleuraphis jamesii-Aristida purpurea||<35 to <100 |
|quaking aspen-paper birch||Populus tremuloides-Betula papyrifera||35-200 [31,131]|
|quaking aspen (west of the Great Plains)||Populus tremuloides||7-120 [6,44,83]|
|mesquite||Prosopis glandulosa||<35 to <100 [80,93]|
|mountain grasslands||Pseudoroegneria spicata||3-40 ( x=10) [5,6]|
|Rocky Mountain Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. glauca||25-100 [6,7,8]|
|coastal Douglas-fir*||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii||40-240 [6,90,101]|
|California mixed evergreen||Pseudotsuga menziesii var. menziesii-Lithocarpus densiflorus-Arbutus menziesii||<35 |
|California oakwoods||Quercus spp.||<35 |
|oak-juniper woodland (Southwest)||Quercus-Juniperus spp.||<35 to <200 |
|coast live oak||Quercus agrifolia||2-75 |
|canyon live oak||Quercus chrysolepis||<35 to 200 |
|blue oak-foothills pine||Quercus douglasii-P. sabiniana||<35 |
|Oregon white oak||Quercus garryana||<35 |
|California black oak||Quercus kelloggii||5-30 |
|interior live oak||Quercus wislizenii||<35 |
|redwood||Sequoia sempervirens||5-200 [6,35,120]|
|western redcedar-western hemlock||Thuja plicata-Tsuga heterophylla||>200 |
|western hemlock-Sitka spruce||Tsuga heterophylla-Picea sitchensis||>200 |
|mountain hemlock*||Tsuga mertensiana||35 to >200 |
Direct Effects of Fire
Adult western tanagers are unlikely to suffer directly from fire. It is generally accepted that large, fast-moving fires can result in mortality, but adult birds typically have the mobility to avoid fire [26,30,73].
It is likely that nests are more vulnerable to fire [30,92]. Although there were no data directly investigating western tanager nest mortality due to fire as of 2006, literature reviews have used fire characteristics and life history of species to speculate on possible effects of fire on nesting success and bird populations [73,102]. Due to the height of most western tanager nests (see Nesting habitat), only relatively severe fires would directly impact their young. Since conditions necessary for fire severe enough to affect nests higher in the canopy typically occur after nesting season , it is likely that direct effects of growing-season fire on western tanager nests would be uncommon compared to species nesting lower to the ground. In addition, the possibility of western tanager renesting may reduce the direct effects of a fire on western tanager recruitment [73,102]. Nests impacted early enough in the breeding season could be compensated for by later nesting attempts. However, since western tanagers only rear 1 brood per season (see Timing of Major Life History Events) fires of enough severity in the mid- to late-breeding season are likely to have a larger effect on western tanagers than fires before or after the breeding season  and may have substantial impacts on the survival of western tanager nestlings and fledglings. In addition to fire severity and timing, other fire characteristics such as the uniformity of the burn and fire frequency are likely to influence the degree to which fire directly impacts western tanager reproduction [52,73].
Timing of Major Life History Events
Western tanagers arrive on their breeding grounds (see General Distribution) in spring. Literature reviews report breeding primarily by western tanagers that are ≥2 years old beginning in May and continuing into July, although some 1st-year western tanagers also breed [54,58]. In the Sandia Mountains of north-central New Mexico, western tanagers were heard singing beginning in late May, and the 1st nest was found in early June . In public open-space areas in Boulder County, Colorado, the start of the western tanager breeding season was estimated as 28 May, and the peak of the breeding season, defined as at least 50% of western tanager nests active, was from 6 June to 1 July . A review  summarizes records of brooding dates in several areas of the West. In the Southwest brooding generally begins in early May, while in the Northwest brooding starts typically in mid-June. Brooding can begin earlier in British Columbia and Alberta than in the northwestern United States. An egg-laying date as early as 16 May in British Columbia was estimated by back calculation, and a complete egg set was observed as early as 26 May in Alberta .
According to reviews, cup nests are built by the female, take about 4 or more days to construct, and are made from twigs, rootlets, grasses, and pine needles [54,58]. There is no evidence for 2nd broods in western tanagers [36,54]. However, a literature review notes a nesting attempt after a failed nest in west-central Idaho and suggests that renesting is a substantial source of late nesting attempts . In addition, renesting was suggested as the explanation for a few late nests observed in Boulder County, Colorado .
Clutch size is typically 3 to 5 eggs [36,54,58]. Average clutch size in 10 nonparasitized nests in Boulder County was 3.8 eggs . A literature review suggests that average clutch in the Southwest may be smaller than that of western tanagers nesting in the North . According to a personal communication cited in a literature review, egg laying generally takes about 1 day per egg . The female incubates the eggs for approximately 13 days, although shorter incubation periods have been reported. The young are fed by both parents and typically fledge 11 to 15 days after hatching [36,54,58]. According to a literature review, immature western tanagers have been observed with the parents at least 2 weeks after fledging .
A literature review notes that immature western tanagers initiate migration later than adult birds. Generally western tanagers leave more northerly locations in late summer or early fall while those in more southerly areas may stay as late as early November .
Reproductive success of western tanagers varies widely between studies and across years. A summary of nest success in a literature review included an average annual nest success probability estimate of 0.186 over 3 years, with a low of 0.035 and a high of 0.349 . In a northern Arizona study area, an average of 43% (n=7) of nests succeeded to the nestling stage . In Boulder County, nesting success varied from 11.3% to 75.3%, with an average of 51.8% over a 3-year period . Daily nest survival rate on ungrazed sites in northeastern New Mexico was 0.955, which was not significantly (p<0.05) different from the 0.973 daily nest survival rate found on grazed sites . According to a review, nest predation is the leading cause of nest failure. Predation rates ranged from 30% (n=48) in a study in New Mexico pinyon-juniper woodland to 86% (n=14) in a mixed-conifer forest in Idaho .
Western tanagers can live several years. A literature review includes an estimate of annual average survival rate of 0.753 and a return rate of 30.1% for western tanagers in west-central Idaho . A wild western tanager 7 years and 11 months old has been documented from banding data .
Life History and Behavior
Lifespan, longevity, and ageing
Clutch size is 3-5. Incubation, by female, lasts about 13 days. Altricial young are tended by both adults.
Molecular Biology and Genetics
Barcode data: Piranga ludoviciana
Below is a sequence of the barcode region Cytochrome oxidase subunit 1 (COI or COX1) from a member of the species.
See the BOLD taxonomy browser for more complete information about this specimen and other sequences.
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Piranga ludoviciana
Public Records: 7
Specimens with Barcodes: 8
Species With Barcodes: 1
IUCN Red List Assessment
Red List Category
Red List Criteria
National NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
Rounded National Status Rank: N5B - Secure
NatureServe Conservation Status
Rounded Global Status Rank: G5 - Secure
Use of Fire in Population Management
Given the available data (see HABITAT RELATED FIRE EFFECTS) and the nesting (Nesting habitat) and foraging (Foraging habitat) requirements of western tanagers, it is likely that western tanagers will tend to increase after low- to moderate-severity fires and tend to decline after high-severity fires. Much more research is necessary, including investigations addressing the effect of fire characteristics, habitat type, and time since fire on western tanager demographics and the effects of fire on western tanager prey.Fire's effect on abundance of predators and parasites  should also be considered when considering the impact of fire in potential or occupied western tanager habitat.
Western tanager's responses to several silvicultural treatments are summarized in Preferred Habitat. Since demographic parameters of western tanagers have not been compared between thinned and control sites, it is uncertain if the increases in detections reflect increased habitat quality in thinned areas. Western tanager appear to occur at lower abundances in clearcuts than other stands [25,49,128]. A review that quantified western tanager's response across several studies, such that -1 reflected lower abundance in treated areas than in controls, demonstrates this trend. Western tanager had an average value of -0.86 in clearcuts with low shrubs (n=7) and -1.00 in clearcuts with tall shrubs (n=4) . Grazing did not have significant effects on western tanager detections (p=0.98), nest success (p>0.05) or parasitism rates (p>0.05) in pinyon-juniper woodlands of New Mexico .
The current population trend of western tanager is uncertain. From 1966 to 1979 western tanager showed a significant (p=0.033) decline that averaged -2.9% per year, according to breeding bird survey data. No significant (p>0.05) trend in western tanager populations has been detected using breeding bird survey data from 1982 to 1991 . In addition, no significant (p>0.1) trends were detected using data collected from Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survival stations in the northwest from 1992 to 1994 . Patterns of abundance found in the literature suggest that western tanager is stable in New Mexico [112,134]. Another review summarizes a study that found increases in western tanager populations on Breeding Bird Survey routes with managed ponderosa pine in Arizona and New Mexico . In contrast, western tanager captures/1,000 net hours at the Rio Grande Nature Center declined from 1986 to 1996. This trend was significant (p<0.05), with an average annual decline of -13.46% .
The western tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), is a medium-sized American songbird. Formerly placed in the tanager family (Thraupidae), it and other members of its genus are now classified in the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). The species's plumage and vocalizations are similar to other members of the cardinal family.
Adults have pale stout pointed bills, yellow underparts and light wing bars. Adult males have a bright red face and a yellow nape, shoulder, and rump, with black upper back, wings, and tail; in non-breeding plumage the head has no more than a reddish cast and the body has an olive tinge. Females have a yellow head and are olive on the back, with dark wings and tail.
The song of disconnected short phrases suggests an American robin's but is hoarser and rather monotonous. The call is described as pit-er-ick.
Their breeding habitat is coniferous or mixed woods across western North America from the Mexico-U.S. border as far north as southern Alaska; thus they are the northernmost-breeding tanager. They build a flimsy cup nest on a horizontal tree branch, usually in a conifer. They lay four bluish-green eggs with brown spots.
The breeding range of the western tanager includes forests along the western coast of North America from southeastern Alaska south to northern Baja California, Mexico. Western tanagers extend east to western Texas and north through central New Mexico, central Colorado, extreme northwest Nebraska, and areas of western South Dakota to southern Northwest Territories, Canada. The western tanager's wintering range stretches from central Costa Rica north through Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala to southern Baja California Sur and extreme southeastern Sonora in western Mexico and to southern Tamaulipas in northeastern Mexico. Western tanagers do not typically occur in the Caribbean lowlands. They have been reported wintering further north and have been observed as far south as Panama. Vagrants are rare to casual in the eastern United States.
In addition to the plant communities listed above, western tanagers are reported from disturbed habitats. For instance, western tanagers were seen in an area of northwestern California that had been logged less than five years previously. Cutleaf burnweed (Erechtites glomerata) was characteristic of the youngest age class, while slightly older sites were composed predominantly of tanoak (Lithocarpus densiflorus) with smaller amounts of snowbrush ceanothus (Ceanothus velutinus), whitebark raspberry (Rubus leucodermis), and Sierra gooseberry (Ribes roezlii). In addition, western tanagers were captured along the Rio Grande in New Mexico during spring and fall migration in an agricultural area composed primarily of alfalfa (Medicago sativa) and corn (Zea mays).
Western tanagers have also been observed in saltcedar (Tamarix species) communities  and in Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) vegetation. In New Mexico, western tanagers were observed in nearly pure stands of saltcedar 10 to 23 feet (3–7 m) tall. Western tanagers were also observed in saltcedar communities during fall migration in along the Rio Grande. Ten western tanagers were observed among three sites composed of Russian-olive in Colorado, Utah, and Idaho. All sites were dominated by Russian-olive with cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) comprising a substantial portion of the understory. Along the Rio Grande western tanagers were most often captured during fall migration in vegetation with a Rio Grande cottonwood (Populus deltoides species wislizenii) overstory and a moderate to dense Russian-olive understory.
Western tanagers migrate alone or in groups of up to 30 birds. On average, hatching-year western tanagers were captured later (early September) at Rio Grande Nature Center than adult western tanagers (mid-August) during fall migration. Migration timing, condition of birds, and site differences in spring and fall migration were also addressed in this investigation.
Major life events
Western tanagers arrive on their breeding grounds in spring. Breeding usually occurs among birds two years or older, beginning in May and continuing into July, although some first-year western tanagers also breed. In the Sandia Mountains of north-central New Mexico, western tanagers were heard singing beginning in late May, and the first nest was found in early June. In public open-space areas in Boulder County, Colorado, the start of the western tanager breeding season was estimated as 28 May, and the peak of the breeding season, defined as at least 50% of western tanager nests active, was from 6 June to 1 July. In the Southwest brooding generally begins in early May, while in the Northwest brooding starts typically in mid-June. Brooding can begin earlier in British Columbia and Alberta than in the northwestern United States. An egg-laying date as early as 16 May in British Columbia was estimated by back calculation, and a complete egg set was observed as early as 26 May in Alberta.
Cup nests are built by the female, take about four or more days to construct, and are made from twigs, rootlets, grasses, and pine needles. There is no evidence for second broods in western tanagers. However, a review notes a nesting attempt after a failed nest in west-central Idaho and suggests that renesting is a substantial source of late nesting attempts. In addition, renesting was suggested as the explanation for a few late nests observed in Boulder County, Colorado.
Clutch size is typically three to five eggs. Average clutch size in 10 nonparasitized nests in Boulder County was 3.8 eggs. Average clutch in the Southwest may be smaller than that of western tanagers nesting in the north. Egg laying generally takes about one day per egg. The female incubates the eggs for approximately 13 days, although shorter incubation periods have been reported. The young are fed by both parents and typically fledge 11 to 15 days after hatching. Immature western tanagers have been observed with the parents at least two weeks after fledging.
Immature western tanagers initiate migration later than adult birds. Generally western tanagers leave more northerly locations in late summer or early fall while those in more southerly areas may stay as late as early November.
Reproductive success of western tanagers varies widely between studies and across years. An average annual nest success probability estimate is 0.186 over 3 years, with a low of 0.035 and a high of 0.349. In a northern Arizona study area, an average of 43% (n=7) of nests succeeded to the nestling stage. In Boulder County, nesting success varied from 11.3% to 75.3%, with an average of 51.8% over a 3-year period. Daily nest survival rate on ungrazed sites in northeastern New Mexico was 0.955, which was not significantly (p<0.05) different from the 0.973 daily nest survival rate found on grazed sites. Nest predation is the leading cause of nest failure. Predation rates ranged from 30% (n=48) in a study in New Mexico pinyon-juniper woodland to 86% (n=14) in a mixed-conifer forest in Idaho.
Western tanagers can live several years. The annual average survival rate is 0.753 and a return rate is 30.1% for western tanagers in west-central Idaho. A wild western tanager 7 years and 11 months old has been documented from banding data.
During the breeding season, western tanagers are found primarily in relatively open coniferous forests and mixed woodlands. During migration western tanagers occur in more areas, including lowland woodlands of southern California, desert oases, riparian areas, parks, and orchards. In the western tanager's wintering range, it occupies pine (Pinus spp.) and pine-oak (Quercus spp.) woodlands as well as low-canopied scrub forests, forest edges, and coffee plantations.
Western tanagers breed at a wide range of elevations from about 330 feet (100 m) in the Northwest up to 10,000 feet (3,050 m). In the northern portion of their breeding range western tanagers have been observed on sites over 8,300 feet (2,530 m) in Oregon down to sites as low as 490 feet (150 m) in northwestern Washington. In the southern portion of their breeding range, western tanagers are more typical on high-elevation sites. Western tanagers were observed on an Arizona site 8,270 feet (2,520 m) in elevation and on a site at 9,500 feet (2,900 m) in Nevada.
Western tanager nest in 2nd-growth and mature conifer and mixed forests. Western tanagers only breed in stands of pole- to large- sized trees and stands of pole- to medium-sized trees with >70% canopy cover. Western tanager nesting was confined to older 2nd-growth (>40 years) and mature (120+ years) Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) communities in the western Cascade Range in Oregon.
Western tanager nests are typically found in coniferous trees toward the end of horizontal branches and at heights greater than 10 feet (3 m); 79% of 43 western tanager nests in British Columbia were found in conifers, primarily Douglas-fir. The deciduous trees most often used were quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) and willows (Salix spp.). The position of western tanager nests along the branches of deciduous trees was more variable than in conifers. On this site, 56% of western tanager nests were at heights from 21 to 36 feet (6.4–11 m). Of 9 western tanager nests in an Alberta study site, 8 occurred in white spruce (Picea glauca) and 1 was found in quaking aspen. Nest height ranged from 20 to 42 feet (6.3–12.8 m), with a mean of about 30 feet (9.3 m). On average, nests were located 80% of the distance from the trunk to the tip of the branch. Of 49 western tanager nests found in a pinyon-juniper (Pinus-Juniperus spp.) woodland in northeastern New Mexico, 98% were in Colorado pinyon (P. edulis) and the remainder occurred in Douglas-fir. On this site, nest trees averaged 24 feet (7.4 m) in height and over 8 inches (21.9 cm) in diameter at breast height (dbh). The average height of nests was 18 feet (5.4 m). In a nearby mixed-conifer forest, nests were found in Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine (P. ponderosa). Nest trees on this site averaged nearly 50 feet (15.1 m) in height and 13 inches (32.7 cm) in dbh. The average nest height was 16 feet (4.93 m) and on average nests were located about 5 feet (1.49 m) from the tree stem and 3 feet (0.97 m) from the edge of the tree's foliage. Western tanager nests on a north-central New Mexico site occurred at heights from 8 to 15 feet (2–5 m), typically in white fir (Abies concolor) located in open areas. In Idaho, western tanager nests were found in conifers at an average height of 40 feet (12.3 m) and ranged from 8 to 55 feet (2.4–16.8 m). Of 58 nests at a Colorado study site, 54 occurred in ponderosa pine and 4 were found in Douglas-fir. Nest height was significantly (p<0.001) associated with tree height, with the mean nest height at approximately 54% of tree height. On average western tanager nests were located 63% of the distance between the trunk and the branch tip. This is closer to the bole than found in most studies and the authors suggest that the conical shape of the ponderosa pine requires nests be placed closer in toward the trunk in order to provide cover. Canopy cover at nest sites averaged 71%, with a minimum of 31% cover.
Western tanagers forage in many habitats. Western tanager forages in all successional stages from grass-forb communities to stands of large trees with greater than 70% cover. In western Oregon, western tanagers were not observed using the grass and forb successional stages, but were observed foraging in areas not used for nesting, such as shrub/sapling and young 2nd growth (16–40 years old) stands typically made up of Douglas-fir.
Although western tanagers forage in many habitats, they are typically observed foraging in forest canopies. For instance, in an area of California primarily dominated by giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), western tanagers spent 60% to 75% of their foraging time above 35 feet (10 m) and less than 2% of foraging time below 12 feet (4 m). In coniferous forests of western Montana, western tanagers were typically observed foraging in canopy foliage above 26 feet (8 m). In mixed conifer-oak forests in California, western tanager foraged from 16 to 92 feet (5–28 m).
In primarily Douglas-fir dominated vegetation in British Columbia, the occurrence of western tanager foraging in various portions of trees and the size of those trees were investigated. Western tanager perched on stems less than 1 inch (<2.5 cm) in diameter in 96.9% of observations. Nearly 85% of observations were either near the branch tip or in the middle of the branch. Western tanagers foraged on larger trees, with nearly 80% of observations on trees with a trunk diameter of more than about 8 inches (20.0 cm) and over 80% of observations occurring on trees 33 feet (10 m) or taller. Western tanager used taller trees (p<0.01) and trees with larger diameters significantly (p<0.001) more than their availability in all silvicultural treatments analyzed.
Western tanager may preferentially forage on certain species. In a California study of foraging and habitat relationships of insect-gleaning birds in mixed conifer-oak forest, western tanager used white fir more and incense-cedar (Calocedrus decurrens) less than would be expected from their availability. Sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana), Douglas-fir, and California black oak (Quercus kelloggii) were used slightly more than their availability, but this was not considered significant, since 95% confidence intervals overlapped with use in accordance with availability. Ponderosa pine was used in proportion to its availability. In mostly Douglas-fir dominated communities in British Columbia, western tanager was observed foraging in Douglas-fir in 88.9% of observations, ponderosa pine in 7.4% of observations, and in living trees of other species in 3.7% of observations. Over all sites the preference for Douglas-fir was significantly (p<0.001) greater than availability. When sites were separated by the various silvicultural treatments, only the 3-year-old light cut (Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine larger than 14 inches (35 cm) in dbh and other species larger than 6 inches (15 cm) dbh were harvested) and the selectively logged (20% of 6 to 8 inch-dbh (15.2–20.3 cm) trees, 25% of 8 to 12 inch-dbh (20.3–30.5 cm) trees, 45% of 12 to 24 inch-dbh (30.5–61.0 cm) trees, and 75% of >24 inch-dbh (>61.0 cm) trees were removed) sites showed significantly (p<0.01) greater use of Douglas-fir by western tanager than would be expected from availability. Western tanager was reported foraging on quaking aspen, as well as balsam poplar (P. balsamifera ssp. balsamifera), speckled alder (Alnus rugosa), and white spruce in central Alberta.
Although western tanagers occur in stands of varying ages and have been observed in higher densities on young sites, they are typically detected more often in relatively mature stands. For example, western tanagers appear to occur more often in mature (50–60 years old) and old-growth (100+ years) quaking aspen than young (<23 years old) trembling aspen stands in the Prince Rupert Forest Region of British Columbia. In Alberta, western tanager was detected significantly (p<0.001) more often in old (120+ years old) quaking aspen mixed-wood stands than in mature (50–65 years old) or young (20–30 years old) mixed-wood stands. The same trend has been found in other communities. In Washington, western tanager was observed on sites dominated by older (35-year- and 60-year-old) red alder (A. rubra), but not on sites containing young (4-year- and 10-year-old sites) red alder. Although western tanagers were fairly common on recently harvested sites, western tanagers were detected at the most points in "mature" and "old-growth" ponderosa pine in northern Idaho and western Montana. Western tanagers had higher densities in mature (33 feet, >10 m tall) conifer plots and young conifer/mature conifer transition plots than in young (3–33 feet, 1–10 m tall) conifer plots in British Columbia. Western tanagers occurred at an average density of 53.2 birds/100 ha in sawtimber Douglas-fir stands (>80–150 years old), 37.0/100 ha in mature Douglas-fir stands (>100 years old), and 3.1/100 ha in sapling Douglas-fir stands (<20 years old) in northern California. Although western tanagers occurred at higher densities in young Douglas-fir forest in Oregon, the stands were 40 to 72 years old. Mature forest was from 80 to 120 years old, and old-growth forest was 200 to 525 years old.
Stand structure and composition
Western tanagers appear to prefer large trees. Large trees are considered an important component of stands for western tanager. In addition, western tanager was significantly (p<0.05) positively associated with large saw timber (>20% cover, >21 inch (>53.2 cm) mean dbh) and significantly (p<0.05) negatively associated with pole timber (>20% cover; conifers >10 feet (>3 m) tall and 4–12 inch (10.2–30.4 cm) mean dbh; hardwoods 10–50 feet (3–15 m) tall and 4–12 inch mean dbh) stands dominated by Douglas-fir, western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and red alder in the central Oregon Coast Ranges. In primarily Douglas-fir-dominated communities in British Columbia, western tanagers foraged in trees >33 feet (>10 m) tall in more than 80% of observations, and nearly 80% of western tanager foraging observations were in trees with trunk diameters greater than 8 inches (>20.0 cm). In addition, western tanagers foraged in trees smaller than 33 feet (10 m) tall less than their availability.
Most evidence suggests that western tanagers prefer areas with moderate canopy cover. Western tanagers avoid continuous canopy. Stands with large trees and 40 to 69% canopy cover are an optimal western tanager habitat. Large trees and canopy cover of ≥70% is considered suitable habitat, while areas with large trees and <40% cover is categorized as marginal habitat. In sapling/pole and mature ponderosa pine habitats of the Black Hills in South Dakota, western tanager occurred at the highest densities in stands with intermediate (40%-70%) canopy cover. In 35- to 45-year-old Douglas-fir and red alder-dominated stands, an average of 322% more western tanagers were detected on sites logged to a density of 240 to 320 trees/ha, and an average of 363% more western tanagers were detected on sites logged to a density of 180 to 220 trees/ha, compared to controls with 410 to 710 trees/ha. The difference in western tanager detections between the logging treatments and the control grew larger over time. In Arizona, western tanager occurred at significantly (p<0.05) higher densities (15.8/40 ha) in forest dominated by Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine the year after logging to an average of 167.7 trees/ha compared to control stands (7.7/40 ha) with average tree density of 626.2 trees/ha. Western tanager densities on the treatment and control sites were more similar the following year. In British Columbia, western tanagers occurred at significantly (p=0.027) higher densities after "light" logging on a site containing Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine. Western tanager was apparently positively influenced by thinning a ponderosa pine stand by 20% in Arizona. In the Sierra Nevada of California, western tanager occurred at a higher density in an open-canopied (602 trees >10 cm dbh/ha) mixed-conifer stand consisting of Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi), lodgepole pine (P. contorta), white fir, and incense-cedar compared to a closed-canopied (994 trees >10 cm dbh/ha) mixed conifer stand of incense-cedar and white fir. This same pattern was found in open- (420 trees > 10 cm dbh/ha) and closed-canopied (658 trees > 10 cm dbh) California red fir (Abies magnifica var. magnifica) stands.
Western tanager has been reported to prefer areas with a diverse forest structure, but importance of lower forest layers is unclear. In the Black Hills of South Dakota, western tanager was significantly (p≤0.1) more abundant in multistoried habitats with bur oak (Q. macrocarpa) and quaking aspen/paper birch (Betula papyrifera) under a ponderosa pine canopy than in sapling/pole or mature ponderosa pine stands with varying canopy cover. Reviews assert the importance of a diverse forest structure  and a dense deciduous understory  for western tanagers. However, in some areas the influence of lower forest layers may be relatively insignificant. For example, removal of incense-cedar and white fir from 1 to 10 feet (0.3–3 m) tall in giant sequoia forests had little impact on western tanager density.
Western tanager may associate with or avoid some plant species. For example, in mixed-wood forests in Alberta western tanager was significantly (p=0.1) positively associated with conifer density (number/ha). Western tanager was also considered a conifer-associated species in quaking aspen-dominated and mixed quaking aspen-conifer communities in British Columbia. It is suggested that western tanager's preference for multi-stored habitats in the Black Hills may be related to the bur oak and quaking aspen/paper birch mid-story. Western tanager was not significantly (p=0.184) related with abundance of pineland dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium vaginatum ssp. cryptopodum) in ponderosa pine stands in central Colorado. Western tanager was negatively associated with subalpine fir (A. lasiocarpa) cover in northern Rocky Mountain conifer forests.
Western tanager obtain their food by foliage gleaning and hawking. The degree to which each of these methods is used apparently varies across locations. For instance, in a California mixed conifer-oak forest consisting mainly of white fir, Douglas-fir, incense-cedar, and California black oak, about 47% of western tanager foraging observations were gleaning, about 40% were hawking, while lunging and hovering occurred in about 6% and 7% of observations, respectively. In contrast, in the mainly Douglas-fir dominated communities of interior British Columbia, gleaning constituted 93.2% of western tanager foraging observations. Hawking only occurred in 3.7% of observations and hovering in 3.1%.
Western tanagers primarily glean from foliage. In the mixed conifer-oak woodland of California, 45% of western tanager foraging observations were foliage gleaning. Western tanagers gleaned from twigs in 10% of observations and from branches in 5% of observations. Hawking constituted the remainder of western tanager foraging observations. In British Columbia, 88.3% of gleaning observations occurred on foliage, 10.5% on branches and twigs, and 1.2% on trunks.
Western tanagers eat fruits (~18%) and a wide range of insects (~82%). Fruits include hawthorn apples (Crataegus spp.), raspberries (Rubus spp.), mulberries (Morus spp.), elderberries (Sambucus spp.), serviceberries (Amelanchier spp.), and wild and cultivated cherries (Prunus spp.). Western tanagers have been observed foraging on Perry's agave (Agave parryi) nectar. Reports of western tanager eating Eucalyptus (Eucalyptus spp.) nectar, Russian-olive fruits, and human-provided food, including bird seed and dried fruit, were summarized in. Western tanagers are major consumers of western spruce budworms (Choristoneura occidentalis), and they have been observed eating Douglas-fir tussock moth larvae (Orgyia pseudotsugata). Hymenopterans, mostly wasps and ants constituted 75% of insects in western tanager stomachs in August. The other insects were beetles (Coleoptera, 12%), mainly click beetles (Elateridae) and woodborers (Bupestridae), true bugs (Hemipterans, 8%), grasshoppers (Orthoptera, 4%) and caterpillars (Lepidoptera, 2%).
Several birds prey on western tanagers. Remains of a western tanager were found in a red-tailed hawk's (Buteo jamaicensis) nest in Colorado. In southwestern Idaho, western tanager remains were reported in 1 of over 170 prairie falcon (Falco mexicanus) nests observed. Northern goshawks (Accipiter gentilis), Mexican spotted owls (Strix occidentalis spp. lucida), sharp-shinned hawks (A. striatus) and Cooper's hawks (A. cooperii) are also western tanager predators. Accipiter hawks (Accipitrinae) and jays (Corvidae) are major predators of western tanagers. Domestic cats also preyed on western tanager in British Columbia.
Clark's nutcrackers (Nucifraga columbiana), northern pygmy owls (Glaucidium gnoma), great horned owls (Bubo virginianus), and jays such as scrub jays (Aphelocoma species), pinyon jays (Gymnorhinus cyanocephalus) and Steller's jays (Cyanocitta stelleri) are typical avian predators of western tanager nests. Other reported nest predators include black bears (Ursus americanus), prairie rattlesnakes (Crotalus viridis), and bullsnakes (Pituophis catenifer) 
Western tanager nests are parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds (Molothrus aster). Parasitism rates can be high and can dramatically reduce the number of western tanagers fledged per nest.
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Names and Taxonomy
Comments: Mitochondrial genetic data from several studies (Burns 1997; Burns et al. 2002, 2003; Klicka et al. 2000, 2007) provide strong evidence that this genus, previously placed in the Thraupidae, is a member of the Cardinalidae.
May constitute a superspecies with P. olivacea (AOU 1998).
tanager, a member of the Thraupidae family . According to a literature review, it hybridizes with the
flame-colored tanager (P. bidentata) in southeastern Arizona.
Hybridization between western and scarlet tanager (P. olivacea) is