Avian Sunshine

After almost a month of cloudy, cool, rainy weather along the Colorado Front Range, packets of avian sunshine arrived on our Littleton farm this afternoon.  Over a week late, these brightly colored birds generally stop by in mid May, on their way from wintering grounds in Central American to their breeding territory in the Colorado foothills and mountains.

Western tanagers are primarily insectivores, moving slowly through conifers and deciduous trees to snare prey from the twigs and branches; at other times, they flycatch from an exposed perch.  Usually observed in moderate sized flocks during migration, they pair off to nest in open coniferous woodlands of the Front Range, seeming to prefer the ponderosa parklands of the Montane Zone (7000-9000 feet in elevation).  Early and late in the breeding season, when chilly temperatures suppress the insect population, these colorful tanagers also feast on berries.

Always welcome on the farm, the brilliant travelers were a godsend after weeks of dreary weather.  Hopefully, their arrival portends the return of warm Colorado sunshine, so rare and fleeting during this stormy, reluctant spring.