Birds of the Western Slope May 25, 2016
By Evelyn Horn
Published Thursday, May 26, 2016 8:30 am
Photo from the Cornell Lab photo gallery Western Tanager
The Grand Mesa is vanishing ... the clouds are moving in from the west and I can barely see Crag Crest. Now it's gone, too. And the mesa is all gray -- again! But there's a flash of yellow. It goes into the ornamental pear tree ... I didn't realize that the leaves had grown so large! Can't find the bird. Was it an oriole? We had one a few days ago.
There's the yellow bird. Too small for oriole. It's hopping around ... now up to the top and we can see it clearly. Allen says, "Red head?" and I answer "yes!"
The bird is a western tanager. We haven't seen it for years! What a gorgeous creature! The brilliant red-orange of its head sets it apart from all other yellow birds. But wait! There's another one! It's coming in from the east ... goes directly to the pear tree and vanishes into the leaves. But there it is again, flying toward the top and to the other bird. They play "hop around and I'll catch up with you" but they're still far apart. And there's a third bird! We've seen tanagers in our area but always one at a time. To see three is a rarity! The third one stays hidden in the leaves ... there it is again!
They winter in central Mexico to Costa Rica in scrub woodlands, pines forests and forest openings. Ours may spend the summer in our more mountainous areas. And names. The proper name is Piranga indoviciana. And Piranga is a name for some small bird and I couldn't find any information on the species name indovicana. But I did notice that the other four species of tanagers share the genus name of Piranga. There's the flame-colored (orange), the hepatic (red with gray), the summer (all red), and the scarlet (red with black trim). They're all south of us except for the western tanager. I had the good fortune to see the scarlet on an Arizona trip long ago.
The diet for our western tanagers consists of insects and fruits. The nest is cup-shaped, there are three to five eggs, the less-colorful female incubates for about 13 days, the young fly in about 15 days, and the birds are known to "hawk;" fly out to catch flying insects. Now that I would love to see!