How to Attract Western Tanagers: Expert Tips and Techniques

Do you want to know how to attract Western Tanagers?

Before you start modifying your yard, it’s important to understand their needs and preferences on food, habitat, nesting, and more.

In this article, we’re going to describe the exact backyard setup you need to bring these lovely birds to your home.

Key Takeaways

  • Attract Western Tanagers by creating as natural an environment as possible in your yard with berry bushes and different types of native trees.
  • Grow nectar-producing flowers in your garden.
  • Offer clean, fresh water with a bird bath and foods they’ll flock to like suet, mealworms, oranges, and berries.

How to Attract Western Tanagers 

colorful western tanager bird sitting on a tree branch

The key ingredients of attracting Western Tanagers to your yard are as follows:

  • Creating a natural environment: Your best bet to ensure these birds feel comfortable coming to your backyard is to make the whole setup mimic their preferred natural habitats. Which means having the right trees, plants, and shrubs for them.
  • Offering their favorite foods: While the plants you have in your garden and yard should do a lot of the heavy lifting feeding Western Tanagers, giving them supplemental foods they enjoy in bird feeders is a smart way to get them gathering at your backdoor. 
  • Giving them water: Water access is crucial for all birds, tanagers included. Don’t forget to give them a reliable, clean, and fresh source of water.

With these basics in mind, let’s move on to talk about how to set up your garden for Western Tanager visitors next.

Setting Up Your Garden for Western Tanagers

cherries growing on a cherry tree

These vibrant birds are drawn to a variety of trees, shrubs, and flowers, making it possible to create the perfect backyard haven for them.

Without further ado, here are some tips to help you make your garden a paradise for Western Tanagers.

Read Next: How to Attract Scarlet Tanagers

Plant the Right Trees and Shrubs

One of the best ways to attract these birds is by planting native trees and shrubs that provide them with the necessary cover and food sources.

As ecosystem experts point out, migratory songbirds like Western Tanagers, Orioles, and Grosbeaks, rely heavily on these natural resources to fuel their journey and nest-building activities.

In the spring and summer months, Western Tanagers prefer foliage-rich environments where they can find insects to feed on.

Here’s what to plant for them to come to your yard:

  • Deciduous trees like oak, maple, and ash trees. These trees can have plenty of bugs like caterpillars and aphids for Western Tanagers to munch on.
  • Fruit trees like cherry and plum trees, which can host both bugs and fruits the birds will eat as the fall season comes.
  • Berry-producing shrubs like mulberries, elderberries, and serviceberries. While Western Tanagers mainly eat insects, berries also supplement their diet and can be a key source of interest for them.
  • Other trees to consider having around them include native pine, fir, and spruce, which provide great nesting sites for Western Tanagers.

In fact, providing an array of coniferous and deciduous trees will encourage these birds to visit and possibly make your yard a stopover point during their lengthy migration journeys.

Grow Nectar-Rich Flowers

Since Western Tanagers also drink nectar, another effective method to entice them into your yard is by offering them nectar-rich flowers.

Some great options include:

  • Trumpet vine and honeysuckle, which can be planted as flowering shrubs or climbing vines along fences and trellises.
  • Flowers with tubular shapes, as they are easy for them to feed on.

Give Them a Bird Bath

female western tanager standing in shallow water

Attracting Western Tanagers to your backyard can be made even more successful by providing a birdbath source.

A clean and accessible water source is essential for these birds to drink and bathe in, especially during the drier summer months.

Additionally, a birdbath can attract a variety of other bird species, enhancing the overall biodiversity of your garden.

Just keep your garden well-maintained and ensure that food, water, and shelter are readily available for these birds to thrive.

Best Foods to Offer Western Tanagers

male western tanager bird feeding from an orange on a tree branch

These birds primarily feed on insects and fruit, making their diet a wee bit particular. 

This is why when it comes to attracting Western Tanagers, understanding their food preferences is crucial.


Suet is a great supplementary food source in attracting these stunning birds. 

Providing suet, especially during cooler months, gives them a high-energy option to keep them warm and sustained. 

As for the type of suet, buy varieties made with insects to really get these birds interested.

Simply hang a suet feeder in a tree or on a perch where they can easily get at it, and enjoy the flurry of backyard visitors.


Technically, Western Tanagers will be eating insects like ants, beetles, termites, caterpillars, wasps, grasshoppers, bees, and cicadas in the wild. 

But mealworms make an excellent supplemental food they’ll readily come to and consume at tray and platform bird feeders. 

So be sure not to skip this one.


two orange halves on a pile of oranges

Tanagers are known to adore fresh oranges. 

Simply cut an orange in half and place it on a perch, skewer it onto a tree branch, or put it on a flat surface where the birds can easily access it. 

Alternatively, you can slice oranges up and put them on a tray style bird feeder for them. 

Other Fruits and Berries

Fruits like raspberries, cherries, plums, blackberries, red or purple grapes, hawthorn apples appeal to Western Tanagers. 

You can either grow some of these fruits outdoors in your yard on their native shrubs and trees, or put them on a platform feeder for tanagers.

Note, fruits like plums and hawthorn apples can be cut into pieces and crushed up a bit.

Grape Jelly

grape jelly in a dish surrounded by purple grapes and jars of jelly

Some birdwatching enthusiasts have noted that the tanagers in their yards will happily eat up grape jelly, so you can consider adding this to your offerings.

Grape jelly can go in shallow bowls and dishes for them—there are also specifically designed bird feeders with these types of dishes for birds like tanagers to access.

Quick note: Try to avoid jellies with additives like dyes and unnatural preservatives for these birds.


Dried fruits like raisins and currants may have some appeal for a Western Tanager, so it can’t hurt to offer these too. 

Chop them up and soak them in water overnight first if you’re going to feed them to the birds. 

Sugar Water

Western Tanagers may also be drawn to sugar-water feeders, just like hummingbirds. 

If you want to try this additional food source for them, follow these steps: 

  1. Boil 1 cup of water for every ¼ cup of sugar and melt the sugar in the water. 
  2. Bring the sugar-water to room temperature or let it cool in the fridge.
  3. Then fill your nectar feeder once the solution is cool, remembering to change the sugar water solution every few days or so.

Tip: Keep the food sources you provide as natural as possible, as Western Tanagers prefer an authentic habitat that mimics their native surroundings. 

But the great news is, by catering to their food preferences, you will significantly increase the likelihood of attracting and sustaining a Western Tanager population in your yard.

Identification of Western Tanagers

male western tanager clinging to a branch

Wondering if you know how to spot a Western Tanager?

Here are their characteristics.

    • Western Tanagers are a striking species of bird known for their vibrant colors and unique features. Males and females differ in their coloration, making it easy to distinguish between the two.
    • Male Western Tanagers boast a brilliant mix of colors resembling a flame. Their heads are a vivid orange-red hue, while their bodies are a bright yellow. The wings, back, and tail are coal-black, which contrast sharply against the lighter colors. 
  • In comparison, females and immature birds exhibit a more subdued yellow-green tone paired with blackish wings and tails.
  • When it comes to size, Western Tanagers are medium-sized birds, which adds to their distinguishability. 
  • They are often found in open woods across the West, particularly among evergreen trees. They have a tendency to stay hidden in the canopy, making them sometimes challenging to spot.

Though they can be tough to spot, if you familiarize yourself with their coloration, preferred habitat, and behavior, you can increase your chances of successful birdwatching. 

This species provides a vibrant addition to any yard, and their unique features make them a joy to observe.

Habitat and Distribution

western tanager sitting in an alpine tree

  • Western Tanagers are vibrant birds, primarily found in the western parts of North America, including both the United States and Canada. Their distribution spans from northern areas of Mexico, up through the United States, and into the southern regions of Canada. 
  • These stunning birds prefer habitats consisting of coniferous and mixed forests, with a special fondness for pine, fir, oak, spruce, ash, and maple trees.
  • In their preferred habitats, Western Tanagers can be found at various elevations, ranging from 500 meters (1,640 feet) to as high as 3,050 meters (10,000 feet) above sea level. 
  • Open woodlands offer the optimal environment for nesting since they provide a mix of trees and clearings that cater to their needs. These birds can sometimes be found in areas with access to grasslands and meadows, as well.
  • Though Western Tanagers are usually associated with the western regions of North America, during migration, they may pass through other habitats, even making temporary appearances in suburban yards, grasslands, and deserts. However, they typically remain hidden within forest canopies, where they forage for food in the treetops.

Migration Patterns

Western Tanagers have unique migration patterns. They travel significant distances during various times of the year, migrating between their breeding territories in the north and their wintering grounds towards the south.

In order to attract Western Tanagers to your yard during their migration, consider:

  • Providing suitable food sources such as dried and fresh fruit, especially orange halves. 
  • They may also be drawn to sugar-water feeders and grape jelly. 
  • Additionally, providing a birdbath can help entice them into your backyard, offering a crucial water source for these traveling birds.


  • In summer, Western Tanagers can be found in coniferous forests of the north and the high mountains, where they establish their territory and breed. 
  • As the season changes, they begin their spring migration, stopping in a variety of habitats along their journey. 
  • It’s not uncommon to see them in grasslands, deserts, and even suburban yards during this time.


  • When winter comes, they head south to Mexico and Central America. This migration allows them to escape the cold weather and find more available food sources in warmer climates. 
  • As the winter season draws to an end, Western Tanagers start migrating back north in preparation for the nesting season.


    • During their migrations, Western Tanagers follow specific routes known as flyways, which provide them with the necessary resources like food and shelter. 
  • These birds are highly adaptable and may venture into different habitats as needed during their migrations.

Nesting Behavior

female western tanager peeking out from behind a log

  • Western Tanagers exhibit interesting nesting behaviors that are influenced by various factors, including the season, habitat, and the roles of males and females. During the breeding season, which typically occurs in the summer months, these birds build their nests in treetops of coniferous forests. They prefer higher elevations, which provide a suitable environment for raising their young.
  • Males are quite active around this time, taking on the responsibility of defending the nesting territory. They also help the females search for suitable nesting locations. 
  • Females, on the other hand, take the lead in constructing the nest. They skillfully build nests using stems, branches, and other materials such as cobwebs and grapevine bark. These nests are generally shallow and well-hidden, making them difficult to spot from below.
  • The females usually lay around 3 to 5 eggs per breeding season and are responsible for the majority of the incubation process. These eggs are then incubated for approximately 12 to 14 days. 
  • Once the eggs hatch, the young Western Tanagers are dependent on both parents for food and protection. The chicks remain in the nest for around two weeks before they fledge and start to explore their surroundings.
  • During the spring and fall months, Western Tanagers can be seen migrating through various habitats. They may pass through grasslands, deserts, and even suburban yards. Notably, the brightly colored males often draw attention when they pause in these areas, giving birdwatchers a treat.

Related Species of Tanagers

The family of Tanagers is vast, diverse, and full of fascinating species ranging in colors and habitat preferences. 

Here are some of the related species that bird enthusiasts might encounter in their backyard, and how to attract them.

Scarlet Tanagers

Scarlet Tanagers are known for their striking red plumage and black wings, making them easily identifiable. 

These birds are usually found in eastern regions of North America, especially in dense deciduous forests. 

You can attract them to your yard by offering grape jelly and oranges as a food source.

Summer Tanagers

Summer Tanagers can be spotted across the southern United States, from California to the Carolinas. 

They have a slow, lazy, robin-like song, and even when not singing, their presence can be identified by their snappy pick-i-tuck callnote. 

If you love summer tanagers, ensure a suitable habitat with plenty of bushes and trees.

If you want to know how to attract summer tanagers, check out this article.

Hepatic Tanagers

Hepatic Tanagers are another species native to North America, particularly in the Southwest. They inhabit conifer forests and are characterized by their rust-red plumage with a grayish-blue tint on the wings.

Providing a natural environment with mature trees and fruiting plants can help attract these birds.


Orioles are not technically tanagers but are visually similar and can be found in a variety of habitats. They are well-known for their vibrant orange-yellow color and unique hanging nests.

Orioles are attracted to fruit, nectar, and insects, so providing these food sources in your yard can result in frequent visits from these beautiful birds.


Grosbeaks are another group of birds that shares similar attributes with tanagers. They are named for their large, stout bills designed to crack seeds. 

Grosbeaks can be found in various habitats, including deciduous and coniferous forests. 

To attract them, provide a mixed-seed bird feeder and plenty of cover in the form of shrubs and trees.

Conservation and Wildlife Importance

Western Tanagers are brilliant, robin-like birds that add a splash of color to the coniferous and mixed forests of western North America.

These beautiful creatures play a crucial role in maintaining the balance of our ecosystem, and their conservation is vital to preserving our region’s wildlife. 

As an American bird, the Western Tanager is highly regarded by birdwatchers and wildlife enthusiasts alike.

These striking birds are known for their vibrant plumage, which features an orange-red head, bright yellow body, and coal-black wings, tail, and back. 

Their ability to remain hidden in the canopy often makes them a delightful surprise for birdwatchers, who treasure the uniqueness of each sighting. 

Conservation efforts for Western Tanagers are ensuring that these birds continue to thrive and enchant nature lovers for generations to come.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I lure tanagers into my backyard?

To attract Western Tanagers to your yard, setting up a birdbath can be highly effective. A clean and safe water source is important for enticing them and other birds to your backyard. 

Birdbaths help in attracting and keeping them around. Additionally, offering their preferred food, like fruits and insects, can also help in drawing them in.

Which plants are preferred by western tanagers?

Western Tanagers prefer evergreen trees such as Douglas fir and pines, particularly for nesting habitat. 

During migration, they may be spotted in various habitats, including smaller parks and gardens. Serviceberries are another favorite among these birds.

What is the ideal diet for western tanagers?

Their diet mostly consists of insects and fruits. 

Often found foraging in the tops of trees, their preferred food choices include beetles, wasps, ants, and caterpillars, among other insects, as well as berries and fruits like serviceberries and oranges.

Are suet feeders suitable for western tanagers?

While suet feeders might not be the primary preference for Western Tanagers, they may still be attracted to them for the insects often found in suet. 

However, offering fruit and insect-based food sources would be a more effective way to attract them to your yard.

Do western tanagers have specific nesting preferences?

Yes, Western Tanagers have specific nesting preferences. They typically choose to nest in coniferous forests or habitats with evergreen trees such as Douglas fir and pines

These birds usually place their nests on horizontal branches a little away from the main trunk and prefer taller trees that provide substantial cover.

What sounds can help attract western tanagers?

Playing recorded songs or calls of Western Tanagers could help in attracting them to your yard. 

Keep in mind that it’s important to use the appropriate recordings to avoid causing distress to the birds or disrupting their natural behavior. 

Additionally, ensure that the volume is set at a natural level to avoid disturbing your neighbors and other wildlife.



Video of Western Tanager Bird Calls

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