Black-Head Grosbeak: Colorfully Exciting

By Dave Hanks

Grosbeaks are one of my favorite bird families. They are slightly smaller than Robins with chunky bodies and big, thick beaks. They are all brightly colored, melodious, and tame enough to come to bird feeders; but yet wild enough to retain their mystique. The Black-Headed is named for its head. It also has an orange and yellow underside and a black back trimmed with white. The female, although less colorful than her mate, is one of the more attractive of female birds. The Black-Headed is a western bird with an eastern counterpart – the Rose-Breasted Grosbeak.

This species prefers open woodlands, and we always have some that nest in our yard. It is with anticipation that we await their arrival each May. They remain with us until the last of July and always raise broods. They love black sunflower seeds and are regulars at our feeders. The young ones seem to be the last to leave on their southern migration, which is as far south as Central America. We have come to thoroughly enjoy having them be a part of our summers.

Their big, seed cracking beaks can also catch insects or pluck fruit. And their song, much like a Robin’s, is enjoyable to hear. In fact, both sexes sing. The female song is more subdued than the male’s but she can sing like a male too. The male, who shares the nest duties, can be lured to the nest by his mate singing like another male competitor. This immediately brings him back to sit on the nest. The nest is well hidden and seems quite flimsy – you can almost see through it from the bottom. This feature may keep the nest air conditioned. One brood of 3 to 4 is raised each summer. It only takes 11 to 12 days for them to fledge, but two years to reach adulthood and full plumage.

My wife and I have put extensive efforts into the pursuit and photographing of all the Grosbeaks. Our photos have been ample rewards for the time spent. (Just outside our front window – a great sight))

(Just outside our front window - "How lucky")