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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)
British ColumbiaYellow
Primary Habitat
Nest Type
Canopy (conifer)
Territory Size
>2.8 ha (core area ~0.8 ha)
Nest Reuse
Breeding Window
Peak: early July to mid-August
Retention patches containing snags, deciduous trees, and large-diameter conifers.
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


  1. Hudon, J. 1999. Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), version 2.0. in The Birds of North America (Rodewald, P. G., ed.) Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA. Available online:
  2. Environment Canada. 2013. Bird Conservation Strategy for Bird Conservation Region 6: Boreal Taiga Plains. Canadian Wildlife Service, Environment Canada, Edmonton, Alberta. 288 pp.
  3. Hobson, K. A. & Bayne, E. M. 2000. Breeding bird communities in boreal forest of western Canada: Consequences of ‘unmixing’ the mixedwoods. The Condor 102: 759–769. Available online:
  4. Mahon, C. L. et al. 2016. Community structure and niche characteristics of upland and lowland western boreal birds at multiple spatial scales. Forest Ecology and Management 361: 99–116. Available online:
  5. Sallabanks, R., Haufler, J. B. & Mehl, C. A. 2006. Influence of forest vegetation structure on avian community composition in west-central Idaho. Wildlife Society Bulletin 34: 1079–1093. Available online: Accessed:
  6. Lance, A. N. & Phinney, M. 2001. Bird responses to partial retention timber harvesting in central interior British Columbia. Forest Ecology and Management 142: 267–280.
  7. Schieck, J. & Song, S. J. 2006. Changes in bird communities throughout succession following fire and harvest in boreal forests of western North America: literature review and meta-analyses. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 36: 1299–1318. Available online:
  8. Leston, L., Bayne, E. & Schmiegelow, F. 2018. Long-term changes in boreal forest occupancy within regenerating harvest units. Forest Ecology and Management 421: 40–53. Available online:
  9. Hayes, J. P., Weikel, J. M. & Huso, M. M. P. 2003. Response of birds to thinning young Douglas-fir forests. Ecological Applications 13: 1222–1232. Available online:
  10. Hagar, J. C., Howlin, S. & Ganio, L. 2004. Short-term response of songbirds to experimental thinning of young Douglas-fir forests in the Oregon Cascades. Forest Ecology and Management 199: 333–347.
  11. Pearson, S. F., Giovanini, J., Jones, J. E. & Kroll, A. J. 2015. Breeding bird community continues to colonize riparian buffers ten years after harvest. PLoS ONE 10: e0143241. Available online:
  12. Schieck, J., Stuart-Smith, K. & Norton, M. 2000. Bird communities are affected by amount and dispersion of vegetation retained in mixedwood boreal forest harvest areas. Forest Ecology and Management 126: 239–254.
  13. Norton, M. R. & Hannon, S. J. 1997. Songbird response to partial-cut logging in the boreal mixedwood forest of Alberta. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 27: 44–53. Available online:
  14. Tobalske, B. W., Shearer, R. C. & Hutto, R. L. 1991. Bird populations in logged and unlogged western larch/Douglas-fir forest in northwestern Montana. Res. Pap. INT-GTR-442. US Dept. of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, Ogden, UT. 12 pp. Available online:
  15. McGarigal, K. & McComb, W. C. 1995. Relationships between landscape structure and breeding birds in the Oregon Coast Range. Ecological Monographs 65: 235–260. Available online:

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