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Bird Habitat Conservation Toolkit

Image of Bird
The Western Tanager is a handsome bird with a song that somewhat resembles a robin with a sore throat. Although it is common in open woodlands, it tends to stay in the shade, making it hard to spot.

Western Tanager

(Piranga ludoviciana)
Overview
status
AlbertaSensitive
British ColumbiaYellow
Primary Habitat
Coniferous/mixedwood
Nest Type
Canopy (conifer)
Territory Size
>2.8 ha (core area ~0.8 ha)
Nest Reuse
No
Breeding Window
Jan
Feb
Mar
Apr
May
Jun
Jun
Jul
Aug
Sep
Oct
Oct
Nov
Dec
Peak: early July to mid-August
Stand-Level
Retention patches containing snags, deciduous trees, and large-diameter conifers.
Landscape-Level
Heterogeneous landscapes with late-seral upland forests and early-seral openings.

Habitat Ecology

  • The Western Tanager is found in a wide range of forest habitats west of Manitoba, but is mainly found in open coniferous, mixed coniferous, and mixed coniferous-deciduous woodlands.1
  • This species is often found at forest edges of natural openings and transitions to aspen patches and second-growth harvest- and fire-origin stands.1,2
  • They are associated with a high overstory canopy, large-diameter trees, and a coniferous component.1
  • Western Tanager nest trees and habitat associations vary according to forest type:
  • In boreal forests, they are associated with late-seral open coniferous or mixed coniferous-deciduous forest,1 particularly white spruce.3,4
  • In ponderosa pine/Douglas fir/grand fir mixed conifer forests, they are associated with late-seral fire-origin forest and mid-seral forests originating from uneven-aged management and selection harvest.5

Response to Forest Management

  • This species responds well to uneven-aged management including partial retention harvesting,6,7 but is rare or absent from regenerating clearcuts without residual trees (up to 33 years postharvest and possibly longer).6–8
  • Thinning of Douglas fir stands increased Western Tanager numbers relative to unharvested stands.9,10
  • Over 10 years, Western Tanagers had higher occupancy of wide (avg. 30 m) riparian buffers compared with narrow (avg. 13 m) buffers in Douglas fir/western hemlock/western red cedar forests.11
  • Western Tanagers appear to be more sensitive to harvesting in aspen-dominated forests, where they prefer old unharvested forests over clearcuts and harvests with up to 40% retention.12,13

Stand-level Recommendations

  • Within pure and mixed conifer forests, retention harvesting or thinning are recommended in lieu of clearcutting. The following habitat features are recommended for retention to increase within-stand complexity:
  • Snags and large-diameter (e.g., >20 cm diameter) downed woody material1,5
  • Deciduous species (e.g., paper birch, trembling aspen, black cottonwood),14 including large-diameter trees12
  • Large-diameter coniferous canopy trees for nesting (e.g., white spruce or Douglas fir)1
  • It is suggested that Western Tanagers breed in retention patches with preference given to larger patches, however patch size thresholds for successful breeding are not provided.1

Landscape-level Recommendations

  • The Western Tanager’s association with high-contrast edges suggests they may be positively associated with landscape fragmentation. At the 300-ha scale in Douglas fir/western hemlock/western red alder forests, they have showed a preference for fragmented landscapes but were positively associated with the amount of late-seral forests.15
  • Heterogenous landscapes subject to uneven-aged management, and containing high-contrast edges between stand types, late-seral forests containing conifer species (white spruce in boreal forests), and natural and man-made openings will likely benefit this species. However, high proportions of clearcuts with no retention are expected to have a negative effect.1,4

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