Piranga ludoviciana – the Western Tanager

As I look down my at my front garden from my home office window, it’s hard to stay focused on my work. May is a particularly distracting month.  Sap and hormones rising!  Right now the new leaves are still thin enough to follow all the floral and feathered action below.

My favorite bird, the brilliant Western Tanager arrives reliably in time for Cinco de Mayo.  In fact, his color scheme would fit right in with the festivities.

Western Tanager

In the past few years I’ve just had a pair for a day or two, but this year I’ve got at least SIX, playing all week in the bushes, flitting and diving among the smaller trees, especially enjoying my red rhododendron. SInce their diet is bugs and small fruits, I didn’t understand what they might be finding there till I looked them up.

Turns out that the red pigment in the face of the Western Tanager is not manufactured by the bird, as are the pigments used by the other red tanagers. Instead, it must be acquired from the diet, presumably from insects that themselves acquire the pigment from plants. So maybe the birds in the rhodies were trying to eat red-fed bugs.

During breeding season the male’s head is much brighter red… and these males certainly had red heads.

Oh, and our American tanagers (Western, scarlet) are evidently not really tanagers any more – they’re members of the cardinal family.

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