It’s an eye-catching mixture of red, yellow, and black. But the Western Tanager can be surprisingly inconspicuous during the breeding season, since it spends its time high in the treetops.
This tanager breeds farther north than any other member of its mostly tropical family. In winter, though, it joins Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Wood Thrush, and dozens of other migrants in Mexico and Central America, where shade coffee farms provide important habitat absent from the "sun" coffee farms that are rapidly replacing them.
On Gaia Estate in Nicaragua, a family-owned farm, observers have seen up to 110 Western Tanagers in a day’s time, making it one of the most common overwintering species. The farm is thought to host up to 150 bird species annually, in stark contrast to the deforested areas so common in the country.
Supporting Bird Friendly® coffee produced by such farms is an important way to keep Western Tanagers and other "coffee birds" common. (Read more about Gaia Estate and its birds.) The once-common Wood Thrush has declined rapidly because of deforestation in Central America, as "Save the Wood Thrush" by expert Bridget Stutchbury describes.
Like the Golden-cheeked, Golden-winged, and Hermit Warblers, the Western Tanager benefits from ABC's Quercus and Aves program, which protects habitat on its breeding and wintering grounds.
Western Tanagers glean insects from leaves and branches, and fly out to catch aerial insects (called hawking or sallying). In fact, the red face of the Western Tanager is due to rhodoxanthin, a pigment rarely found in birds, which the tanager probably gets from its insect diet. In winter, the birds switch to fruit, berries, and nectar.
If you’d like to help the Western Tanager, buy Bird Friendly coffee—and spread the word. At ABC, we like Birds and Beans for superior flavor, easy ordering, and of course, its Bird Friendly certification, which signifies the best benefits for birds.