Get To Know Grosbeaks
Look for these large, eye-catching birds.
What’s in a Name?
All grosbeaks—rose-breasted, blue, black-headed, pine and evening grosbeaks—share a common characteristic: a thick, conical bill for cracking tough seeds. Although these species go by the same descriptive name, grosbeak, they belong to different families. Pine and evening grosbeaks are finches; the others are in the cardinal family.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks are a welcome sign of spring in the eastern U.S. These birds prefer a leafy, wooded habitat but also show up at backyard feeders. They love sunflower seeds, but they’ll eat raw peanuts and safflower seeds, too. The male rose-breasted is dapper with his bright red chest patch. The female is striped brown and white.
A telltale sign you’re looking at a blue grosbeak is the cinnamon-colored wing bars. Found mainly in the South, blue grosbeaks look for shrubby habitats such as old fields, forest edges and riversides. You might lure a blue grosbeak to a feeder with grains and seeds, as long as your backyard includes dense shrubbery. The male is bright blue and the female is light brown with rusty wing bars.
Black-headed grosbeaks spend summers in mixed woodlands and riverside trees in the West. You might spot them sipping nectar from an oriole cup or cracking sunflower seeds at the main feeder. Male black-headed grosbeaks are dull orange-brown with a black head, while females are brown and white with orange tones.
At a whopping 9 inches, pine grosbeaks are big and a bit sluggish. They live in boreal coniferous forests of the far north and high mountains of the West, but a few wander into the northeastern U.S. in winter. If you’re lucky enough to attract a pine grosbeak to your feeder, take note of the male’s pink coloring. Females and young males are gray with touches of yellow or orange.
There’s no telling when or where evening grosbeaks, with their spectacular gold and dusky coloring, will show up. Winter migrants, they spend the season searching for food, typically tree seeds. They sometimes visit backyards for sunflower seeds at feeders or to nibble at trees with berries or buds, especially maples.
Field editors share their grosbeak success stories.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks visit my feeders as they migrate north in spring. They seem to enjoy the same seeds as the cardinals—a mix with mostly black oil sunflower seeds—and they prefer tray feeders. -Boni Trombetta West Chester, Pennsylvania
Black-headed grosbeaks and their offspring frequent our feeders from early spring to early fall at our New Mexico mountain cabin. They are quite clownish as they line up on the deck railing awaiting “table” space at the feeders. This year we switched from a seed mix to only black oil sunflower seeds, and they still feed in large numbers.- Pat NorthingtonAustin, Texas