Piranga Ludoviciana – Western Tanager

Piranga ludoviciana, commonly known as western tanager is a medium-sized American songbird that can be found throughout the country. Formerly classified as a member of the tanager family (Thraupidae), other members of its genus, as well as the bird itself, are now classified as members of the cardinal family (Cardinalidae). Similar to other members of the cardinal family (Cardinalidae), the species’ plumage and vocalizations are similar to those of the cardinal.

Quick Overview: Piranga Ludoviciana – Western Tanager
Body size: Around 7.25 in (18 cm) with a rough weight of 28 g (1 oz).
Main colors: Red, Yellow, Black, White, Green, Gray
Range: United States: Alaska, North Dakota, Nebraska, and Texas; Introduced to North, Central, and South America
Migratory Bird: Yes
Best time of the year to see in the U.S.: May, June, July, August, September
Conservation Status: Least Concern

Western tanager Description

Western tanagers are medium-sized birds with a brilliant red head and bright yellow body, as well as a black back, wings, and tail. Wings are divided into two bars: the upper bar is yellow, and the lower bar is white. Legs and feet are a grayish color. On the outside, the female is olive-green with a gray back and yellow underparts. On wings that are rapidly beating, you can take off quickly and directly.

Piranga Ludoviciana - Western Tanager
Male Piranga Ludoviciana – Western Tanager. Photo by: Marya

Fun facts: While most red birds derive their color from a variety of plant pigments known as carotenoids, the Western Tanager’s scarlet head feathers are due to a rare pigment known as rhodoxanthin, which is found only in small amounts in plants. Western Tanagers are thought to obtain this substance from insects in their diet because they are unable to produce it in their own bodies.

Female Piranga Ludoviciana – Western Tanager. Source: Wikipedia


These medium-sized birds are 7.25 in (18 cm) length and weighed about 28 g (1 oz). Their wingspan could range up to 11-12 in (28-30 cm). Despite the fact that they have been known to live as long as 15.3 years, their average lifespan is approximately 8 years.


Western tanagers are insectivores, which means that they catch insects while they are flying through the air. Other migratory birds do not eat vespid wasps, but western tanagers are known to prefer them over other insects. They also eat fruits and nectar from plants, according to the USDA. During the winter, they prey on insects as well as fruit.


Spring is the time of year when western tanagers arrive in their breeding grounds, where they nest in open coniferous forests and mixed woodlands. Their northern wintering grounds are desert oases, riparian areas, and orchards. They migrate south in late summer and spend the winters in open mountain pine woodlands, parks, gardens, and desert oases. Their wintering grounds include pine and pine-oak woodlands, as well as low-canopied scrub forests, where they spend the majority of the year. They have been spotted at elevations ranging from 10,000 feet to as low as 330 feet in elevation.


Western tanagers migrate long distances in pairs or groups of 30. Night migration occurs at high altitudes. They associate with Townsend’s warblers, purple finches, and mountain chickadees. Males chase intruding males, and females chase intruding females. Western tanagers also charge at smaller birds, causing physical contact with the startled victim. Western tanagers are hard to spot because they forage in the upper branches of trees and move slowly, but they fly quickly and directly.

Piranga ludoviciana Scientific Classification

  • Kingdom: Animalia
  • Phylum: Arthropoda
  • Subphylum: Chelicerata
  • Class: Aves
  • Order: Passeriformes
  • Family: Cardinalidae
  • Genus: Piranga
  • Species: Piranga ludoviciana

Best time of the year to see

Western tanagers are widespread throughout Washington between May and September. They are quite common in forested areas of eastern Washington, especially in Ponderosa-pine and Douglas-fir forests. While during summer in the month of June to September, they could be seen throughout the United States.

Distribution of the Hepatic tanager bird in the USA

The western tanager ranges from Alaska to Panama along the western coasts of North and Central America. This region includes the Northwest Territories of Canada and Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas, Washington. Their breeding grounds are in the far north of Canada, and they migrate south for the winter. However, they have been known to breed in South America.

Piranga Ludoviciana – Western Tanager

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