Best of the Tetons

Tanager Flowers 4 May29

Western Tanagers:

An early summer burst of color in the Jackson Hole valley.

Western Tanagers pass through Jackson Hole around the last week of May and extending into the first couple of weeks of June. They share the turf with other colorful migratory birds like Bullock’s Orioles, Black-headed Grosbeaks, Lazuli Buntings, Evening Grosbeaks, and Cedar Waxwings. Bears may be along the roadsides in the Tetons, but I often spend that period in my back yard capturing these little gems. By the time they appear here, they are already in their breeding colors. In most years, I get numerous Western Tanagers—sometimes as many as 30 males in the back yard at one time, plus a lot of females. They can look like Christmas Ornaments against the green leaves and trees.

Tanager Male 2_June2

Western Tanagers are attracted to slices of oranges  and orange flavored suet, but they also eat other sweet fruit like grapes, cherries, raspberries, and even apples.

Tanager Flower Buds 2_May28

Western Tanagers winter in the southern section of Mexico and are much less colorful there.  You can read more about Western Tanagers at : All About Birds vis Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Tanager Flower Buds 1_May28

Tanager Flowers 1_May29


Tanager Flowers 3_May29

Tanager Flowers 4_May29

Tanager Squabble 14_May28

The male Western Tanagers usually have a bright red head with the bright yellow body. Females range from olive green to olive gray.

Tanager Male 3_June2

I always assumed the amount of red on their heads were an indication of their age, but I am not certain of this characteristic.

Tanager Male 1_May31

Tanager M 1_June6

Tanager Male 1_June2

Tanager Male 1_June1

Western Tanager 1_May19

At some point around the 10th to the 14th of June, most of the Tanagers pass on through my yard and continue north. I’ve seen them around the lake shore area of Jackson Lake and even into Yellowstone. I watch for them passing through in the latter parts of summer, but I don’t recall ever seeing them. The images above were all taken in 2013. I’ve been photographing them regularly since round 2008. MJ

Equipment Notes: All of the photos above were taken with a Nikon D4 and a Nikon 200-400 lens on a Gitzo tripod with an Arca-Swiss Z-1 Ball Head and a Wimberley Sidekick.

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Please Note: All of the images on this page are fully copyrighted with the US Copyright Office.  ©2013 Mike R. Jackson – All Rights Reserved

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Comments (8)

  1. These are beautifully taken Mike! I wish I only had to go out to my backyard to see them. They pass through here in the Spring, but I have to drive a bit to see them. I got lucky this year and even got a few photos.

  2. Andrew

    According to Cornell Lab of Ornithology, The Western Tanager breeds farther north than any other member of its mostly tropical family, breeding to nearly 60°N in the Northwest Territories.
    The red pigment in the face of the Western Tanager is rhodoxanthin, a pigment rare in birds. It is not manufactured by the bird, as are the pigments used by the other red tanagers. Instead, it must be acquired from the diet, presumably from insects that themselves acquire the pigment from plants.

  3. Patty

    I was lucky enough to see and photograph a couple of these guys in the Black Hills last June. Am wondering now if they were migrating through or if they stayed there for the summer. Was just awesome to finally get some photos of them.

  4. Patty

    Great shots by the way……….

  5. I wish the Tanagers and the rest of the crew hung around all summer, but they just pass through. I look forward to seeing them each year. I didn’t have many Cedar Waxwings this year for some reason, even though I have plenty of food ready for them. Bullock’s Orioles were pretty good, however. I’ll have another post soon with a cross section of the other birds.

  6. Marion

    Not only are the birds beautiful, but there are blossoms on the trees, congratulations! Despite lots of orioles, I have not seen a single Tanager here.

  7. Lowell Schechter

    really great bird photos. Such nice color.
    Here on the East Coast of Long Island New York, we have many places to photograph birds. There are many osprey nest around the area but there is a place called Elizabeth Morton Bird Sanctuary that really shines in the winter. Just set an old tree bark and put some seed or peanut butter on the bark and the birds come flying.

  8. The best part of bird photography is the fact they are pretty much everywhere in the US, plus there is so much variety to spread around. Each year, I find a new species or two I had never seen, such as the Hooded Merganser on Flat Creek a few days ago. One year, we had Cross-bills, but not since. Last year, we had Bohemian Waxwings and Pine Grosbeaks in town. My wintering back yard group remains fairly constant from year to year, but this year I have the Blue Jay to keep me focused back there. I am happy to hear your birds are cooperating with you, too! MJ

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