Piranga ludoviciana

Status: Uncommon regular spring and fall migrant west and west-central, rare casual east-central and east. Fairly common regular breeder Pine Ridge. Accidental in winter.

Documentation:  Specimen: UNSM ZM7051, 26 May 1900 Monroe Canyon, Sioux Co.

Taxonomy:  No subspecies are recognized (Pyle 1997).

See discussion regarding hybridization with Scarlet Tanager under that species.

Spring:  May 2, 2, 3 <<<>>> summer

Spring arrival is in early May. A later date was of two females at Wind Springs Ranch, Sioux Co 4 Jun 2005.

Away from the Panhandle and west-central, this species is a casual migrant. There are several easterly records, most of which are rather early. There are numerous records of Western Tanagers wintering on the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (Hudon 2020; eBird.org, accessed November 2017), a possible source for early reports in eastern Nebraska. Eastern records are of a male photographed at Plattsmouth, Cass Co 26 Apr 2008 (Brogie 2009a), 28-30 Apr 2009 Omaha (Brogie 2009b), 28 Apr-3 May one photographed in Bellevue, Sarpy Co, 28 Apr-3 May 2015 Bellevue, one photographed at Benedict, Polk Co 2 May 2008, 3-4 May 1997 Omaha (Silcock and Jorgensen 1997), 5 May 1995 Neale Woods, Douglas Co (Brenneman 1995), 8 May 1994 at Indian Cave SP, Nemaha and Richardson Cos (Silcock and Rosche 1994), 11 May 1997 Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co, 11 May 2013 one photographed at Plattsmouth, 11 May 2018 one photographed at Wilderness Park, Lancaster Co, 11-13 May 2020 Norfolk, Madison Co, 13 May 1995 Sarpy Co (Morris 1995), 13 May 2020 Fontenelle Forest, Sarpy Co, 14-15 May 2020 Omaha, Douglas Co, 17 May 2014 Douglas Co, 24 May 1942 Jefferson Co, and 29 May 1957 Lancaster Co.

Reports from central Nebraska are in the period 8-29 May.

  • High counts:  12 at Bushnell Cemetery, Kimball Co 28 May 2011, 8 in Kimball and Banner Cos 17 May 2003, and 7 at Gotte Park, Kimball 30 May 2011.

SummerAccording to Rosche (1982), Western Tanager is most common in western Pine Ridge canyons, but it occurs east to Sheridan Co, where breeding was confirmed in both breeding bird atlases (Mollhoff 2001, 2016). Breeding season sightings in Sheridan Co are of two at Metcalf WMA 12 Jun 2011, and one near Whiteclay 21 Jul 2015. Reports in Sheridan Co 4 Jun 1986 and 4 Jun 2016 may have been of late migrants. One near Joder, Sioux Co 8 Jul 2011 was probably a wandering local breeder.

The only other location with suitable habitat and breeding season reports is the Wildcat Hills in Scotts Bluff Co, where, however, nesting is as yet undocumented despite several records since 2015. One was there 2 Jul 2015; in 2017 there were four reports 20 Jun-28 Jul, in 2018 two birds 11 Jun, and in 2019 singles 16 and 29 Jun and 8 Jul. Additional Scotts Bluff Co reports include singles at Gering Cemetery 21 Jun 2019, in Carter Canyon 26 Jun 2016, and at Cedar Canyon WMA 16 Aug 2012 as well as Scotts Bluff Co reports (unspecified locations) 2 Jun 1980, 13 Jul 1972, and 7 Aug 1976, and one at Scotts Bluff NM 17 Jun 2013. Mollhoff (2001) shows a “possible” breeding record in Scotts Bluff Co in the period 1984-89, and during 2006-2011 Mollhoff (2016) showed nesting season reports in eastern Banner and southeast Morrill Cos.

There are very few other reports away from the Pine Ridge after early Jun: 11 Jun 1995 Kimball Co, 18 Jun 1860 Snake River, Cherry Co (Coues 1874), and 27 Jun 1967 Brown Co.

Eight were counted in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 13 Jun 2019, eight at Gilbert-Baker WMA, Sioux Co 4 Jun 2020, and seven near Fort Robinson SHP, Sioux Co 21 Jun 2020.

  • Breeding phenology:
    Fledglings: 27-30 Jun.

Fall:  summer <<<>>> Oct 6, 7, 8

Migrants appear away from breeding areas by late Jul, but mostly in Aug, and departure is complete by early Oct.

Western Tanager is a casual migrant in the east, with these reports: 10 Sep 1963 Jefferson Co, 1 Oct 2014 Omaha, and 14 Oct 1981 Pierce Co (specimen WSC 750). Reports from the central are in the period 18 Aug-10 Oct; a later date is of a female in Lincoln Co 20 Nov 1964 which apparently was collected, since there is a specimen taken at North Platte, Lincoln Co Nov 1964 (USNM 488495).

  • High counts:  7 in Kimball and Scotts Bluff Cos 3 Sep 2000, 7 at Bushnell, Kimball Co 13 Sep 2007, 4 on 7 Sep 2015 at Oliver Reservoir, Kimball Co, 4 at Chadron SP, Dawes Co 24 Sep 2015, and 4 in Sowbelly Canyon, Sioux Co 3 Sep 2017.

Winter: One in an Omaha yard 9 Jan 1966 was photographed and identified as this species by the members of the Omaha Bird Club (Cortelyou 1966). Western Tanagers are rare but regular in winter in eastern North America.


NC: Nature Center
NM: National Monument
SP: State Park
UNSM: University of Nebraska State Museum
WMA: Wildlife Management Area (State)
WSC: Wayne State College


Photograph (top) of a Western Tanager at Chadron State Park, Dawes Co 25 May 2012 by Phil Swanson.

Literature Cited

Brenneman, J. 1995. Western Tanager. NBR 63: 61.

Brogie, M.A. 2009a. 2008 (20th) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 77: 80-90.

Brogie, M.A. 2009b. 2009 (21st) Report of the NOU Records Committee. NBR 77: 160-168.

Cortelyou, R.G. 1966. Note. NBR 34: 41.

Coues, E. 1874. Birds of the Northwest: A handbook of the ornithology of the region drained by the Missouri River and its tributaries. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C., USA.

Hudon, J. 2020. Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (A. F. Poole and F. B. Gill, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.westan.01.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2001. The Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas 1984-1989. Nebraska Ornithologists’ Union Occasional Papers No. 7. Nebraska Game and Parks Commission, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Mollhoff, W.J. 2016. The Second Nebraska Breeding Bird Atlas. Bull. Univ. Nebraska State Museum Vol 29. University of Nebraska State Museum, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA.

Morris, R. 1995. Sarpy County North American Migration Count, May 13, 1995. NBR 63: 62-66.

Pyle, P. 1997. Identification Guide to North American Birds. Part I, Columbidae to Ploceidae. Slate Creek Press, Bolinas, California, USA.

Rosche, R.C. 1982. Birds of northwestern Nebraska and southwestern South Dakota, an annotated checklist. Cottonwood Press, Crawford, Nebraska, USA.

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen. 1997. Spring Field Report, March-May 1997. NBR 65: 74-99.

Silcock, W.R., and R.C. Rosche. 1994. Spring Field Report, March-May 1994. NBR 62: 66-88.

Recommended Citation

Silcock, W.R., and J.G. Jorgensen.  2020.  Western Tanager (Piranga ludoviciana). In Birds of Nebraska — Online. www.BirdsofNebraska.org

Birds of Nebraska – Online

Updated 2 Sep 2020