Western Tanager

Scientific Name: Piranga ludoviciana

Pictures: (click for larger images)

Update, 10/15/05: Good news; I finally have some better pictures!  I'm posting two below but more are to come.

A male Western Tanager in the UCLA Botanical Garden.  You can just see the last of his read-headed breeding plumage!  10/13/05

This was, apparently, a female Western Tanager who was flying about in a tree at the north end of the UCLA Botanical Garden, trying to pull berries off.  Either that, or trying to glean insects.  9/13/05
This was probably a female Western Tanager, as it had no orange/red coloring on its head.  Unfortunately, her beak was behind a branch in this photo.  Taken in the UCLA Botanical Garden 3/9/05.
Here is a male Western Tanager.  This one, and the female in the previous photo, overwintered in the UCLA Botanical Garden, meaning they stayed in there for the winter rather than migrating south!  They would normally not be here this early in the year.  3/4/05.
You can just barely see his head starting to turn from yellow to orange.  By breeding time, later in Spring, his head will be a brilliant red!  3/4/05.
Male in Breeding (Spring) Plumage Western Tanager Illustration.
Yet again we had some Western Tanagers overwinter in the UCLA Botanical Garden in 2006.  This guy was a little odd-looking, but kind enough to slow down for a picture.  1/22/06.

-Photos by Jason Finley
-Illustration by Robert C. Stebbins from "Birds of the Campus" (1947) by Dr. Loye Miller.

Description: Medium. 6"-7.25" in length (beak to tail), larger than a sparrow.  Yellow chest, belly, and rump (paler in females).  Upper back, wings, and tail are black in males, grey in females, and there is a white stripe on the wings.  Males have an additional yellow stripe on the wings.  Heads are yellow in Fall/Winter.  In Spring/Summer, the male's head turns a brilliant red!

Sound: Listen to a Western Tanager singing and calling!  Link is to the sound page for this bird from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds.

Commonality/Seasonality: I'll guess uncommon. Usually only present in Spring/Summer.

Location: The only ones I've seen so far are the few that overwintered in the UCLA Botanical Garden.  I also glimpsed them in a bottlebrush tree near Hershey Hall.  Alex Kirschel spotted at least one in the L.A. National Cemetery (just west of Veteran Ave.).



Supposedly, this bird was first recorded on the Lewis & Clark expedition (1803-1806)!

These brilliant birds cross the campus in early May, as a rule (May 8, May 3, May 17), and may be reported from the sycamores, oaks, or the Botany Garden pines.

-Miller, Loye.  "Birds of the Campus, University of California, Los Angeles," from University of California Syllabus Series, No. 300.  Text by Loye Miller, illustrations by Robert C. Stebbins.  Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1947.



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