Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
Western Tanager - Piranga ludoviciana
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General Comments The Western Tanager is a rare visitor and over-wintering "resident" in North Carolina, but it occurs essentially annually now, with well over 100 total records. It has most often been seen near the coast and on the adjacent mainland, and is much rarer farther inland. The vast majority of the sightings occur between Dec and early May; there are also a few sightings throughout the fall. Thankfully, it has a proclivity for visiting feeders, such that a birder has a good chance of seeing a "staked-out" tanager within a given decade, even though very few birds are found in the state in a given winter.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Scarce "transient" and winter visitor, with close to 95 records. Very rare to rare in winter along the coast and slightly inland (on the mainland); very rare in the central part of the region, and casual to very rare in the western portion, including the Sandhills. Many of these are birds appearing at feeders, lingering for weeks at a time, even spending the entire winter on occasions. Mainly mid- or late Nov to late Mar, sparingly to early May, and once to 29 May. An adult male (seen by an excellent observer) in the Sandhills Game Land on 10 Aug 1974 is remarkable. Peak counts: 2, on four occasions -- Manteo, Morehead City, New Bern, and Southern Shores (Dare).
Piedmont Scarce "transient" and winter visitor, with well over 30 records. Very rare visitor, mainly from early Dec to early May, with one record for 8 Oct. Only five or six of the birds stayed for a week or more, and four of them over-wintered (in Charlotte, Davidson [Mecklenburg], Forsyth, and Raleigh). Most notable was one seen in the foothills feeding on dogwood berries (and not at a feeder), at Lake James SP (McDowell), from 3 Dec 2014 - 8 Jan 2015. Peak counts: one.
Mountains Casual visitor. Only about six records, though only one since 1991. Oddly, the dates are "strangely" across the board -- 31 May, "Jun", 19 Jul, 25 Sep, 3 Jan, and 4 Jan. Quite remarkable was the report in Pearson et al. (1959) of a pair seen at Waynesville (Haywood) in Jun 1944. It is hoped that these were all correctly identified; interestingly, none were at feeders.
Finding Tips You likely will see your first in the state at a feeder near the coast.
Attribution LeGrand[2023-04-10], LeGrand[2022-04-27], LeGrand[2021-09-04]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.