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It was a great weekend! Wonderful craft vendors, and kids crafts at Davis Park, birding with Vancouver Audubon, Cathlapotle Plankhouse activities, Traditional Salmon Bake, Portland Audubon birds on display, kids’ crafts, awesome volunteers, amazing presenters, Sandhill Crane Tours, Audubon Naturalist Spotting scopes, a little bit of rain and…FUN! We hope BirdFest & Bluegrass 2016 was enjoyed by all!
Our Bird of the Year is the colorful Western Tanager, an evergreen canopy loving bird, we see it only rarely on the refuge in the Spring, Summer and Fall. These birds breed in generally more open woods all over the West as far north as Alaska. Western Tanagers frequent a wide variety of fairly open coniferous surroundings during migration, but will also visit man-made habitats such as orchards, parks, and suburban gardens. In the early fall, they migrate south to Mexico and Central America.
About three-fourths the size of an American Robin, these songbirds are stocky, with short thick-based bills and medium-length tails. The sexes differ greatly in breeding plumage. Males of the species are a stunning bright yellow with black wings and a red-orange head resembling a flame. The wings have two bold wingbars, with the upper one yellow and the lower white, their backs and tails black. Females are duller, with olive-green upperparts, contrasting with a yellowish rump and variable belly color from bright yellow to gray. In the Fall, the male loses much of his bright color, looking more like the female but with a darker gray back. Most birds with red plumage gain their coloring from plant pigments called carotenoids, but the Western Tanager owes its red feathers to a rare pigment called rhodoxanthin. Since they are unable to make this pigment in their own bodies, it is believed they acquire it through the insects they eat.
Western Tanagers nest in conifers, though they also nest in oaks and other broad-leaf trees. They can be seen at up to 10,000 feet elevations in western North American spruce-fir treelines. Male Western Tanagers perform courtship rituals where they purposely fall past the female, flashing their yellow and black plumage in order to catch her eye. The female builds a twig nest, and then incubates the 3 to 5 eggs for about 13 days. It takes another 11 to 15 days for them to fledge from the nest.
Often hard to observe, this bird works its way in a slow methodical fashion through the trees, eating mostly insects such as termites, wasps, ants, stinkbugs, cicadas, beetles, grasshoppers, crane flies, dragonflies, and caterpillars most of the year; small fruits make up the majority of their winter diets, though some who fall behind during migration have been seen eating seeds at feeders.
The best time to spot a Western Tanager on our refuge is in May, since the early migrants start showing up in April. A few of these migrants will stay to nest during the summer. In early fall, starting in August, they begin to migrate south again and are all gone by mid-September.
Did you know: Close to the turn of the twentieth century, many thought that Western Tanagers were a significant threat to commercial fruit crops. An observer wrote 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.” Thankfully today it is illegal to shoot native birds, and Western Tanagers are safer than they were a century ago. A male Western Tanager was banded in Nevada in 1965 and lived 6 years and 11 months by the time he was recaptured and released during banding in Oregon in 1971.
Photo Credit: Roger Windemuth
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