Elegy for a Beautiful Bird

Elegy for a Beautiful Bird

I had a different article queued up for today, then Memorial Day arrived, and with it the opportunity for a memorial.

Western tanagers are my favorite birds.

Last week, my cousin Christine posted a photo on Instagram of one in her hometown of Albuquerque, NM. I DM’d her that they hadn’t arrived yet in Boise and that I was excited for their annual pilgrimage – we typically have them on our farm for a few days each year as they migrate north.

Then the very next day – voila! – one arrived on its flight of fancy here at our farm.

My love affair goes back to when I saw my first western tanager. I was 21 and training to be a whitewater river guide in Idaho’s wilderness and spotted one in a riverside bush amidst a rocky landscape. I was amazed by its coloring – to my eye, the most colorful of birds we see here in this part of the world.

They’re remarkable, beautiful birds, with a lyrical song. The western tanager was first illustrated and described in 1811 by ornithologist Alexander Wilson from a specimen collected in Idaho on the Lewis and Clark expedition.  They migrate upwards of 5,000+ miles each year, wintering in Mexico and Central America and catching a springtime flight to their summer breeding grounds in the forests and high mountains of northwestern Canada. You can check out their migratory route by time of year in a cool interactive diagram here.

Which takes us back to Memorial Day. I’ve been enjoying seeing and listening to the western tanagers over the past week in our yard as they pass through town.  But yesterday, two tanagers flew into the sliding glass doors on our shop, the first time any bird has done this since we built the structure 6 years ago.

One collided with the glass in the morning; the other in the afternoon.

I immediately looked up bird deflectors online and ordered some in hopes of preventing this in the future.

I took a picture of them in their lifeless repose, but it’s far too sad to post here and feels a little like a violation of their life. And me, I feel culpable.

Last night I sat down on my patio and had a beer and a bit of a cry about it.

RIP, my little friends.



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