Conservation status Widespread and common, with no indication of declining numbers.
Family Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
Habitat Open conifer or mixed forests; widespread in migration. Breeds mostly in the high mountains or the North, in forest of spruce, fir, pine, aspen, rarely in lower elevation woods mostly of oak. In migration may occur in any habitat, even desert. Winters in the tropics mostly in pine-oak woods or forest edge. In California, may winter in eucalyptus groves.
A western counterpart to the Scarlet Tanager, this species occurs in summer farther north than any other tanager -- far up into northwestern Canada. Western Tanagers nest in coniferous forests of the north and the high mountains, but during migration they may show up in any habitat, including grassland and desert; the bright males often draw attention by pausing in suburban yards in late spring.

Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in tops of trees. Usually feeds deliberately, peering about slowly for insects in foliage. Also flies out to catch insects in mid-air. Regularly visits flowers, probably to feed both on nectar and on insects found there.


3-5. Pale blue or bluish green, with brown blotches sometimes concentrated at larger end. Incubation is by female, about 13 days. Young: Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching.


Both parents bring food for the nestlings. Young probably leave the nest about 2 weeks after hatching.


Mostly insects, some fruit and berries. Feeds mainly on insects, including wasps, bees, ants, beetles, grasshoppers, termites, cicadas. Also feeds on many berries, such as mulberries and elderberries, and takes some cultivated fruit.


Male sings during late spring and summer to defend nesting territory. Early stages of courtship may involve male chasing female among the trees. Nest site is usually in coniferous tree such as fir or pine, sometimes in aspen, oak, or other deciduous tree. Usually placed at a fork in a horizontal branch well out from the trunk, and 15-65' above the ground, rarely lower. Nest (probably built mostly by female) is a shallow open cup made of twigs, grass, rootlets, lined with animal hair and fine rootlets.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
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Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

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Protracted migration lasts late in spring and begins early in fall, with some birds seen away from breeding areas as late as mid-June and as early as mid-July.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon

See a fully interactive migration map for this species on the Bird Migration Explorer.

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Songs and Calls

Song is robin-like in its short fluty phrases, rendered with a pause in between. The quality is much hoarser, however. Call is a dry pit-r-ick.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
Learn more about this sound collection.