Black, White, and Rose: Subtle Beauty in the Bushes

By Dave Hanks

To me, the ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK is absolutely one of the most attractive of the bird world. The way the three colors, of this species, are combined makes a very pleasing effect. Unfortunately, it is an eastern species that is not usually seen in the western USA. Its western counterpart (Black-Headed Grosbeak) nests in our yard, but it would be keen if we could have access to both.

This Robin-sized bird has a large seed-eating beak, but throughout most of the year, over half of their diet is made up of insects. Their song also resembles the American Robin’s, but more subdued and mellow.

The males arrive before the females on their breeding grounds – in mid May and they leave in early August. When courting, the male sings while in pursuit of the female. He will also crouch, spread and droop his wings while his tail is erect and fanned. He will also sing when not flying, while retracting his head and waving it from side to side. The male will do most of the brooding and he often sings while sitting on the nest. One’s imagination can visualize lullabies being sung to the young. Now what female could resist these multiple actions?

This is a lower Central American species that migrates across the Gulf of Mexico to the eastern states and Canada. We have expended much effort and miles seeking this charismatic bird. We have had very brief sightings of it in Minnesota, north-eastern British Columbia, plus strays in Montana’s Centennial valley, Alberta’s Jasper Park, and Idaho’s Silver Creek Nature Preserve. All these experiences were brief and discouraging. It had to be in Texas, the state with the most birds in the union, where we finally got lucky! Here we spent two days with some newly arrived males. They were eating some seeds that had been spread, by some thoughtful person, on a large, horizontal tree branch.

(Checking the area before descending)