- While most red birds owe their redness to a variety of plant pigments known as carotenoids, the Western Tanager gets its scarlet head feathers from a rare pigment called rhodoxanthin. Unable to make this substance in their own bodies, Western Tanagers probably obtain it from insects in their diet.
- This species ranges farther north than any other tanager, breeding northward to a latitude of 60 degrees—into Canada’s Northwest Territories. In the chilly northernmost reaches of their breeding range, Western Tanagers may spend as little as two months before migrating south.
- Male Western Tanagers sometimes perform an antic, eye-catching display, apparently a courtship ritual, in which they tumble past a female, their showy plumage flashing yellow and black.
- Around the turn of the twentieth century, Western Tanagers were thought to pose a significant threat to commercial fruit crops. One observer wrote that in 1896, “the damage done to cherries in one orchard was so great that the sales of the fruit which was left did not balance the bills paid out for poison and ammunition.” Today, it is illegal to shoot native birds and Western Tanagers are safer than they were a century ago.
- The oldest Western Tanager on record—a male originally banded in Nevada in 1965—had lived at least 6 years and 11 months by the time it was recaptured and rereleased in Oregon in 1971.
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