by Kevin Mack
For the sake of one patient at the PAWS Wildlife Center, it’s fortunate that this past winter was extremely mild. Ordinarily, she would have spent our rainy season several thousand miles to the south in Mexico or Central America. As fate had it, however, this female Western Tanager spent the time during which she would ordinarily migrate recuperating from an injury she had suffered when she struck a window last fall.
Western Tanagers are brightly colored songbirds that are slightly smaller than robins. Breeding males have striking red heads that contrast sharply with their yellow body and black back and tail. Females are more modestly colored, with a yellowish underside and a dull olive color above. Both sexes stand out boldly against the green background of the coniferous and mixed forests in which they spend the summer months.
The female tanager that spent the winter at PAWS arrived on September 21, 2002. She was unable to fly due to a scapular fracture—a result of the window collision. After having her wing wrapped to immobilize the fracture, she was prescribed two weeks of cage rest. Once the wrap was removed, she required several more weeks in an outdoor enclosure to regain her flight conditioning. By the time she was ready for release, all of the tanagers in Washington State had long since departed for the south.
The option of flying the bird south on an airplane was considered, but without knowing where this particular individual chose to spend her winters, the possibility of putting her in an unfamiliar area seemed too great. The alternative that was chosen was to keep the bird through the winter and release her when the Tanagers returned to Washington during their spring migration. Our patient was released on May 8, 2003, a full seven months from the time she was admitted to the center. She seemed very anxious to go!