What Does an Eastern Kingbird Look Like?

eastern kingbird
The eastern kingbird has a broad white tip on its tail

For birders looking to add more flycatchers to their life list, the eastern kingbird is a good place to start. According to Dale Gentry, Director of Conservation for Audubon Upper Mississippi, it’s one of the easiest flycatchers to identify—and its behavioral patterns combined with its appearance make it a relatively quick ID.

“There are a couple of good clues [to identifying an eastern kingbird],” Dale says, noting that the birds are black-gray on their backs, the back of their heads, and most of their tail. From the underside, however, eastern kingbirds can appear mostly white. Dale says they’re solid white on their chin, breast, and belly. Males and females appear identical.

309738276 1 Kathleen Smith Bnb Pc 2022
From underneath, the bird’s chest and belly are white.

For an unimpeachable clue, Dale recommends getting a good look at the tail. “They have a white band at the end of their tail,” he says. “If you see a medium-sized songbird that’s dark gray on the back, white on the belly, and has a stark white tip to its tail, it’s a sure sign that you’ve got an eastern kingbird.”

Learn how to identify an eastern phoebe.

Eastern Kingbird Behavior

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Eastern kingbird dive-bombing a bald eagle

With the scientific name Tyrannus tyrannus and a knack for attacking much larger birds to defend its nest, the ultimate “king bird” might be the eastern kingbird. One of the so-called “tyrant flycatchers,” this is among the most regal of the bunch—although eight subspecies go by the kingbird moniker.

While tyrant carries a negative connotation, it’s worth noting that these birds’ scientific name isn’t a homage to a particularly cruel monarch. “They’re not named because they’re tyrants, but because they have a crown of different-colored feathers,” Dale says. “It’s interesting because you really don’t see it, but kingbirds have brightly colored feathers on their crown. The only time I’ve ever seen it is when I’ve seen a museum specimen.”

Eastern kingbirds are birds of the open sky. Perching high atop a tree, power line or shrub, they survey their surroundings for intruders and quickly dispatch them: you’ll often see them chasing away any bird that has the gall to intrude upon their kingdom. As an interesting behavioral quirk, Dale says eastern kingbirds tend to make noise when they fly. “If they’re singing, they’re frequently flying,” he says.

Meet the regal belted kingfisher bird.

Diet: What Do Eastern Kingbirds Eat?

eastern kingbird
Eastern kingbird eating an eight-spotted skimmer dragonfly

As some might already know, eastern kingbirds swoop through the air to snag bugs in the summer. Their prominent perches provide easy access to flying insects such as wasps, crickets, and flies. As do most others in the flycatcher family, these kingbirds sport whiskery feathers to help funnel bugs into their gaping mouths.

Surprisingly, eastern kingbirds swap out their personal menus during winter. That’s a unique trait among birds, according to Dale. “What’s really interesting is a discovery that came out when I was in graduate school,” he explains. “We found that in winter, these kingbirds migrate down to the tropics and their diet becomes fruit-eating. It’s really remarkable that they go from an insect-eating bird to a fruit-eating bird.”

Range and Habitat

eastern kingbird family
Family of kingbirds

The eastern kingbird is ever-present in summer over the eastern two-thirds of North America, often perching on fences or roadside wires. It is the only kingbird with a widespread range in the East. During summer in the Great Plains its range overlaps with that of the western kingbird, which has similar habits but different colors, including a bright yellow belly.

To find this bird, Dale recommends searching at the edges of wooded areas. However, don’t venture too far down the trail. “They like small woodlots and small, wide-open deciduous habitats, golf courses, those sorts of things,” he says. “They’re happiest when they’ve got forest near the edge of an open clearing, or a meadow. Even in agricultural fields, they’ll do OK.”

Call and Sounds

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

You might first notice an eastern kingbird from its buzzy, sputtering cries as it flies overhead. Dale categorizes the birds’ song as “speedy” and explains how he remembers its vocalizations. “Their song was described to me by my ornithology professor as someone with a handheld cassette player on fast-forward,” he says.

Nesting Habits

253745705 1 Denise Neuendorf Bnb Bypc2020
Fledgling eastern kingbirds begging for food

One reason these birds are called kingbirds derives from their tireless defense of their nests. Famed for their fearless and commanding behavior, they attack much larger birds that get too close—crows, hawks and even eagles.

Female eastern kingbirds take on almost all nest-building duties. A typical brood consists of two to five eggs, which serve as the only young for a pairing during a single breeding season. Young kingbirds that have flown the nest can remain dependent on their parents for food for seven weeks. “They don’t leave the nest until they’re capable of flying, so you’d only see a juvenile in the first few weeks of its life,” Dale says.

Juvenile Eastern Kingbird

Bnbugc Kayla Bissett
Young eastern kingbird perched on a post

“I can’t seem to find this species in my bird book. Can you help me?” asks Birds & Blooms reader Kayla Bissett of Mayville, Michigan.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “A frequent sight in open stretches of eastern North America in summer, this is an eastern kingbird. It is a relatively plain bird, with a charcoal gray back, a slightly darker top of the head, and whitish throat and underparts. The key field mark is the white band at the tip of its black tail. The one in your photo looks like a juvenile, with pale feather edges on its lower back and a white tail band narrower than on adults.

From a distance, the dark back appears paler, while the paler belly appears darker, making the birds more difficult to spot. This coloration is known as countershading, a form of camouflage.”

About the Experts

Dale Gentry has more than 25 years of experience working in conservation. He has conducted bird surveys in Minnesota forests, taught community ecology and conservation biology to graduate students, and led conservation-biology student trips to Costa Rica and the Galapagos Islands. In his current role, he serves as Audubon Upper Mississippi River’s Director of Conservation. He holds a bachelor’s degree in zoology from Idaho State University, a master’s degree in biology from the University of South Dakota, and Ph.D. in Atmosphere, Environment and Water Resources from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official bird experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they lead birding trips all over the world.

Sources

What Does a Lincoln’s Sparrow Look Like?

A striped Lincoln's sparrow hops along the ground.
A striped Lincoln’s sparrow hops along the ground.

Birds & Blooms reader Colleen Gibbs of Coon Rapids, Minnesota, wrote to birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman after seeing a mysterious sparrow in her yard. They explained how to identify a Lincoln’s sparrow. Colleen says of the new visitor, “This bird is similar to several other types of sparrows, but it doesn’t seem to match any exactly. What is it?”

Kenn and Kimberly say, “With a beautiful, clear photo such as yours, we have plenty of clues to check. This bird is a Lincoln’s sparrow, an uncommon species in your area that is often shy. Its colors are helpful for checking its identity: The face is mostly gray, with reddish brown stripes along the sides of the crown, a buff mustache mark and a narrow buff eye ring. The chest is also buff with narrow black streaks.”

Learn how to identify and attract a chipping sparrow.

Similar Species

Kenn and Kimberly say, “The bold black spot on the (Lincoln’s sparrow’s) chest might be confusing since that’s sometimes considered a field mark specifically for song sparrows, but actually many other sparrows can show that mark.”

Lincoln’s Sparrow Range

Lincoln’s sparrows can be seen in most areas of the United States and Canada, but can be very uncommon depending on the location and time of year. They are less frequently spotted in the eastern U.S.

In summer, these sparrows breed in Canada, the far north, and parts of the mountain west. For a larger chunk of the U.S., the Lincoln’s can be spotted during spring and fall migration.

Look for them in winter in the south, from Florida to Texas, west to Southern California, along the Pacific coast, and in Mexico. Some birds stay as far north as Arkansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

They travel in mixed flocks during migration, so keep your binoculars handy in spring and fall.

Diet: What Does a Lincoln’s Sparrow Eat?

Lincoln's Sparrow
The Lincoln’s sparrow often stays hidden under thick cover but can be distinguished by its song.

These small, striped ground-foraging birds spend a good portion of their time in dense cover. To attract them to your backyard, plant plenty of shrubs and trees. The branches offer the security that the sparrows need. Also, native plants encourage healthy insect populations for the sparrows to gobble up. Grow seed-bearing plants for these sparrows to feed on during winter.

Next, learn how to identify a white throated sparrow and an American tree sparrow.

Lincoln’s Sparrow Song and Call

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Male Lincoln’s sparrows have a very musical song. It’s a rich mix of trills and buzzy notes and lasts for about two seconds. Both males and females belt out a tinny high-pitched call and a series of chips.

About the Experts

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official bird experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they lead birding trips all over the world.

Sources

What Does a House Sparrow Look Like?

Two House Sparrows
Male and female house sparrows

The male house sparrow has a gray and rusty crown with pale cheeks and a black bib; the female is rather plain with dusty brown overall coloring, strong stripes on her back and patches of pale feathers behind her eyes.

Discover more types of sparrow birds that you should know.

Are House Sparrows Invasive?

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Eastern bluebirds defend their nest box against a male house sparrow.

Yes, house sparrows are an invasive bird species. A nonnative to North America, they were introduced from Europe to New York in 1852. Birders tend to dislike them because they often kill native birds in order to take over their nesting sites (i.e. bluebird boxes or purple martin houses).

If you notice that house sparrows are having a negative impact on native birds nesting in your yard, there are methods you can employ to discourage them. Since they are invasive, it is legal to remove their nests. You might also try plugging the birdhouse hole until the sparrows move on. It may take multiple attempts to discourage them from nesting in your yard, as they are known to be persistent.

Project NestWatch also provides advice for trapping and humanely euthanizing these nonnative birds.

Psst—don’t confuse house sparrows with our native sparrows.

What Do House Sparrows Eat?

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Female House Sparrow looks for crumbs outside a coffee shop

These birds have a plant-based diet and tend to focus on seeds; they especially enjoy cracked corn and millet. They also might munch on flower petals or leaves. House sparrows aren’t particularly picky about what they eat, though — you may find them everywhere from at your feeders to munching on crumbs on the grounds of an outdoor restaurant.

To get rid of them, put your feeders away until they move on. House sparrows won’t stick around where there isn’t an easy food source.

Learn fascinating facts about sparrows.

House Sparrow Call and Sounds

house sparrow
House sparrows are not known for their songs.

This species is not known as a particularly musical songbird. House sparrows give a short, simple chirp call.

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Learn how to identify wrens vs sparrows.

House Sparrow Nesting Habits

house sparrows in a birdhouse
House sparrow fledglings in a birdhouse

Nests tend to be loosely built and messy, incorporating typical nesting materials like twigs as well as scraps of general debris. They typically nest in cavities in trees or other structures, but they’ll occasionally build their nests in more open, unusual spaces like streetlights or gas station roofs.

House sparrows build nests year-round. They display fierce aggression during nesting season and compete with other birds for nesting sites, especially bluebirds.

Range and Migration

House Sparrow In Winter
House sparrows in winter on a branch

Birds & Blooms reader Juli Seyfried asks, “The sparrows nesting under our roof overhang left during fall. Where did they go?”

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “House sparrows, which were introduced to North America, often nest in the crannies and holes around the eaves of houses, unlike native sparrows.

Although house sparrows are not migratory, they do move around with the seasons. After they finish nesting and raising young, they usually gather in small flocks and roam the neighborhood or countryside. Throughout the winter, the flocks concentrate wherever they find a good supply of food.”

Next, learn how to identify a chipping sparrow.

About the Experts

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official bird experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they lead birding trips all over the world.

Sources

 What Does a Dark-Eyed Junco Look Like?

dark-eyed junco
Birders always know winter is coming when the dark-eyed juncos start showing up.

Scientific Name: Junco hyemalis
Family: Sparrow
Length: 6 inches
Wingspan: 9 inches
Markings: Coloration varies regionally. Common characteristics are dark eyes, pink beaks, white-edged tails and black, brown or gray hoods.

The name “dark-eyed junco” applies to several populations, each with slightly different coloring. The slate-colored is the only junco in the East. The Oregon subspecies is the most widespread in the West; others with smaller ranges are the pink-sided, white-winged, gray-headed and red-backed. If you live in the West or are visiting in winter, it’s worth your while to look in a field guide so you know what you might see.

Don’t miss these adorable junco bird pictures.

Female and Juvenile Juncos

Dark-eyed Junco female in fall autumn
Female junco in southern Minnesota

In most of the populations, female juncos are slightly lighter than the average male. Female slate-colored juncos, for instance, tend to be brown, while their male mates are closer to black. Juvenile juncos are often lighter and can be streaked.

Discover 8 cool facts about junco birds.

Diet: What Do Dark-Eyed Juncos Eat?

308170104 1 Sue Quirion Bnb Pc 2022
Juncos will eat seeds from bird feeders.

Juncos are seedeaters. In winter, juncos feast on seeds of weeds and grasses that are left standing in your landscape or in fields, parks and open woodlands. Seeds from common plants such as chickweed, buckwheat, lamb’s-quarters and sorrel make up 75 percent of their year-round diet. Or they may snatch a juicy berry from a fruit-producing shrub.

But juncos also supplement their diet with feeder foods. These snowbirds prefer to forage on the ground for millet, black-oil sunflower seed or cracked corn that has fallen from your feeders. They may occasionally take a seed from a platform or tray feeder. 

Did you know: Some ground birds are considered hoppers while others are walkers. What about juncos? They’re hoppers!

Dark-Eyed Junco Nest and Eggs

Dark Eyed Junco (junco Hyemalis) Eggs In Nest Woven From Grass
Junco eggs in the nest

Although juncos nest mostly in Canada and parts of Alaska, there are some year-round residents in pockets of the Lower 48, including the Northeast, the Northwest and the California coast.

dark-eyed junco with nesting material
Dark-eyed junco (Oregon form) with nesting material

The female constructs a cup-shaped nest on the ground using natural materials and then lays four to six pale, speckled eggs inside.

Junco vs chickadee: Here’s how to tell the difference.

Dark-Eyed Junco Song

Listen to the dark-eyed junco song. Their voice trills vary in pitch and tempo, from dry notes to tinkling sounds.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Range Map and Habitat

Dark-eyed juncos, also known as snowbirds, are thriving! Our friends at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology estimate their total population to be more than 630 million.

Juncos are common winter visitors across much of the United States. They travel in small flocks during the season. Juncos reappear in many parts of the Lower 48 just as winter comes alive each year. They leave their breeding grounds in the Northwoods and the western mountains. Then they descend on backyard feeding stations across much of the U.S

Look for juncos in evergreen or mixed forests in summer. In winter, they visit all kinds of woods, brushy places, farms, parks, and backyards.

Dark-eyed Junco Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, learn how to identify and attract a chipping sparrow and a white throated sparrow.

Sources

What Does a White-Throated Sparrow Look Like?

white throated sparrow
Look for a small white patch on the sparrow’s throat and a yellow spot near its eye.

Birding experts Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Clues to help you identify a white-throated sparrow include the small white throat patch, the yellow in front of the eye, and the rich reddish-brown on the shoulder and wing. Some white-throated sparrows have bold stripes of white and black on the head. Others have stripes of tan and dark brown.

People used to think that the tan-striped birds were young ones. But that’s not necessarily true. About half of all adult white-throated sparrows, both males and females, are tan-striped for life.”

White-throated sparrows measure 6-3/4 inches with a wingspan of 9 inches. When identifying sparrows, take note of face pattern, any streaking on the belly, and habitat.

Meet the white-crowned sparrow.

White-Throated Sparrow Song

White Throated Sparrow
This striking sparrow has a distinctive song.

White-throated sparrows sing a pretty, pure whistling song. While some birders hear Oh sweet Canada Canada Canada, others think it sounds more like Old Sam Peabody Peabody Peabody.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Listen for the sweet sounds of a song sparrow.

Nests and Eggs

This sparrow builds a nest from fine materials on or near the ground; the female lays three to six blue to green eggs with reddish-brown specks.

Discover fascinating sparrow facts you should know.

What Does a White-Throated Sparrow Eat?

Bnbbyc17 Dean Tyler
White-throated sparrow eating berries

White-throated sparrows adore sunflower seeds and millet. You can also attract these birds by offering cracked corn. These lively birds grab seed from feeders or peck for morsels on the frosty ground below.

Away from feeders, they eat weed seeds, fruits, buds and insects.

Wren vs sparrow: what bird are you seeing?

Range Map and Habitat

sparrow facts, white throated sparrow
These sparrows mostly breed in Canada.

These birds are common in gardens, residential areas, woodlands and clearings. White-throated sparrows are commonly seen in the East, but are much less common in the West.

White-throated Sparrow Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Next, discover learn all about dark-eyed juncos.

About the Experts

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman are the official bird experts for Birds & Blooms. They are the creators of the Kaufman Field Guide series and they lead birding trips all over the world.

Sources

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Identification

rose-breasted grosbeaks at a feeder
Male and female rose-breasted grosbeaks visit a seed feeder

To some birders, spotting a rose-breasted grosbeak is a definite sign of spring. Rose-breasted grosbeaks show up east of the Rockies in spring. Males are dressed to the nines in black and white with a red ascot-like marking on their chests. Their bold feathers make them easy to identify. These birds measure about 8 inches long with a 12 1/2 inch wingspan.

Check out 5 types of grosbeaks backyard birders should know.

Female Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Females sport a more subtle look and are harder to identify because of their drab coloring. They are brown and white with a striped breast and a dark cheek patch. Look for long white stripes above their eyes on a heavily streaked brown body with yellowish underwings. As different as they are, both share one easily recognizable feature: thick conical bills. 

Don’t miss these outstanding pictures of rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Nests and Eggs

361968171 1 Jennifer Quam Bnb Pc 2023
Female rose-breasted grosbeak with nesting material

Pairs build a lightly woven cup shaped nests made of twigs, grasses and leaves. From late spring to summer, the female lays up to five bluish or greenish speckled eggs. Rose-breasted grosbeaks build their nests so loosely that the eggs they lay can occasionally be spotted through the bottom.

A nest is usually located on a tree branch 5 to 20 feet off the ground, but sometimes can be much higher and closer to the forest canopy. “Rose-breasted grosbeak nests are often very high in trees, so they can be hard to spot from the ground,” says Emma Greig, a project leader for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s citizen science program Project FeederWatch.

Both males and females spend time incubating the eggs and then quietly sing to each other. Eggs hatch in about 13 days under the watchful eyes of both parents.  If a pair raises a second brood, the male may take charge of the first while his mate sits on the new eggs. Males and females share incubation, brooding and feeding duties.

Get to know gorgeous blue grosbeaks.

Juvenile Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

Bnbbyc17 Donna Sparks 2
This juvenile shows a hint of rose coloring on the chest

Immature birds are brown and heavily streaked. Young males look like a blend of a female and male with a white eyebrow and a less visible chest patch. Within two weeks, the chicks leave the nest.

Learn how to identify baby orioles and juvenile orioles.

What Does a Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Eat?

Bnbugc Pam Garcia2

"A great way to attract rose-breasted grosbeaks to your yard is to offer black oil sunflower seeds in a platform, hopper or large tube feeder."
Emma greig
Project Leader of project feederwatch

Rose-breasted grosbeaks mostly stick to foraging for insects, seeds and fruit in the foliage of trees, but they will come to backyard feeders. Make sure your feeders are full during migration months, when they’ll need the most energy. Draw in these timid, stocky birds by setting up several feeders filled with birdseed or peanuts. Be sure to provide generous perching room. “A great way to attract rose-breasted grosbeaks to your yard is to offer black oil sunflower seeds in a platform, hopper or large tube feeder,” Emma says.

Ensure that the young get a healthy start by offering a habitat filled with native plants that attracts a steady diet of insects. “Even though adult rose-breasted grosbeaks love seeds and berries, their young are fed mostly insects,” says Emma. “This is because the young need the extra protein for their growth.”

I have fed orioles for years but had an awesome surprise the day I took this photo (above). I was thrilled when rose-breasted grosbeaks showed up,” says Pam Garcia.

Did you know: evening grosbeaks and pine grosbeaks are winter visitors.

Attract Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks With Plants

Grosbeak Rb Male Vd Masw8105

You’ll have a better chance of attracting these fliers if you plant berry-producing trees and shrubs.

  • American elderberry
  • Arrowwood viburnum
  • Blueberries
  • Flowering dogwood
  • Mountain ash
  • Red mulberry
  • Serviceberry
  • Virginia creeper

Rose-Breasted Grosbeak Song

Their song is similar to an American robin’s whistle, but faster and more musical. Upon arriving around May from their wintering grounds in Mexico, Central America and northern South America, these songbirds kick off courtship. The males’ melodies are designed to attract mates, claim territory and warn off competitors. Males are known to sing more than 650 times per day. The male’s courtship dance can consist of the head tipped back and tail spread out and held upright while the bird flashes its rose-colored underwings.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Habitat and Range Map

08 Normancline Bbam18
These birds are most often spotted east of the Rocky Mountains.

Look for these birds in deciduous and mixed woods, also well-wooded residential areas and parks. They are primarily spotted in the eastern half of the country and are summer residents in northern states. Interestingly, they cross paths and sometimes mate with black-headed grosbeaks in the Great Plains, resulting in hybrid offspring.

Kenn and Kimberly Kaufman say, “Rose-breasted grosbeaks are mostly eastern birds, spending the summer in the northeastern U.S. and eastern Canada, and wintering from Mexico south through Central America to northern South America. Their main migration routes are east of the Rocky Mountains. But every year some stray from the normal routes used during spring and fall migrations, and they show up at scattered sites throughout the western states. This seems to happen most often in spring, probably involving birds that go off course as they move north out of Mexico.”

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

About the Expert

Emma Greig is the project leader of Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program, for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Emma holds a Ph. D. from the University of Chicago and previously was a postdoctoral associate in Macaulay Library.

Sources

What Does an Evening Grosbeak Look Like?

Evening Grosbeak Algonquin Park
A male evening grosbeak has a bold yellow eyebrow

It would be nearly impossible, even for beginner birders, to overlook a flock of evening grosbeaks. These robin-sized beauties—named for the mistaken belief that they appeared more often at dusk—aren’t always easy to find, though. Learn how to identify and attract an evening grosbeak.

Meet the 5 types of grosbeaks backyard birders should know.

Few bird species are as stunning as evening grosbeaks. Charlotte Demers, a researcher from the Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, New York, describes them as “big, gorgeous birds.” The yellow, black and white feathers of the males truly stand out, while females are more yellow-gray in color. Males sport an almost comically bold unibrow. All grosbeaks share a common characteristic: a thick, conical bill for cracking tough seeds.

Learn how to identify rose-breasted grosbeaks.

Evening Grosbeak Facts

14 Darrylboleratz Bbfm20
An evening grosbeak is recognizable by its big beak, gray and yellow feathers, and black-and-white wing pattern.
  • Scientific Name: Coccothraustes vespertinus
  • Family: Finch
  • Length: 8 inches
  • Wingspan: 13 inches

Check out the updated winter finch forecast.

Nest and Eggs

Trisha Sniderevefemale
Female evening grosbeaks build the nest.

The female builds a shallow saucer-shaped nest from plant materials and lays two to five blue or turquoise speckled eggs.

What Do Evening Grosbeaks Eat?

evening grosbeaks
Attract evening grosbeaks with sunflower seeds.

Throughout the year, grosbeaks’ diets include everything from maple sap to caterpillars. Fruits, seeds and buds are important food sources too. During the winter, their large flocks readily feed on sunflower seeds.

"A few evening grosbeaks arrived in January 2020. Within two weeks, we had a flock of over 100 feeding on sunflower seeds! What a memorable winter."
Sally harris
Birds & Blooms reader

Get to know gorgeous blue grosbeaks.

Best Bird Feeders for Evening Grosbeaks

evening grosbeaks on a platform feeder
Male and female evening grosbeaks on a tray bird feeder

“Grosbeaks are too bulky for tubes, but you can get them on tray or platform feeders and hoppers,” Charlotte says. Dozens of evening grosbeaks will dine side by side during these feeding frenzies, while others flutter in from nearby treetops. Keep an eye on your backyard feeding station for this thrilling nature scene.

Evening Grosbeak Song and Call

05 Kelleighfarr Bbdj23
Evening grosbeaks are “songless songbirds.”

Despite being classified as songbirds, evening grosbeaks don’t really have a song. They use chirping calls but don’t rely on singing to select a mate or defend their territory Listen for a sharp, high and trilling “kleerr” call.

Bird songs provided by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Go west to see black-headed grosbeaks.

Evening Grosbeak Migration

evening grosbeak
These birds are known for their erratic migration habits.

Evening grosbeaks are irruptive migrators, not following regular annual patterns of movement. Instead, huge numbers of the birds can move to a location but then not be seen again for years. One perk of this wandering lifestyle is usually abundant food resources where they arrive.

Charlotte sometimes finds grosbeak flocks “gritting” alongside roads. This curious behavior is when birds gather sand in their crops, which helps grind down the hard seeds and nuts that they eat.

Head up north to see pine grosbeaks.

Habitat and Range Map

Evening Grosbeak Bird Species

Range maps provided by Kaufman Field Guides, the official field guide of Birds & Blooms.

Evening grosbeaks are forest specialists found year-round across Canada and down into the western mountains of the U.S. The species expanded into New England during the early 1900s, perhaps following ornamental plantings of box elder trees.

Charlotte says multiple theories explain recent population declines in the East. One idea is that peak grosbeak numbers were artificially high after spruce budworm outbreaks. Another cause could be habitat loss. “They used to be here in winter in huge flocks of 30, 40 or even 50 birds,” Charlotte says, “but in our area they are getting harder to see.”

They are now uncommon in the Northeast and Midwest, unless you get lucky during an irruption year, but still common in Oregon and other parts of the west.

About the Expert

Biologist Charlotte Demers is a researcher from the Adirondack Ecological Center in Newcomb, New York, with the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

Sources

What Does a Summer Tanager Look Like?

summer tanager
Despite their bold color, summer tanagers are not always easy birds to find.

Male summer tanagers are unmistakable. They’re the only entirely red birds found in the United States and Canada. You’d think that it would make them stand out in green treetops, but they can be surprisingly difficult to spot. Unlike a scarlet tanager that is red only in spring and summer, a male summer tanager keeps his bright colors in all seasons.

Tanagers also have a distinctive bill shape. Moderately thick, it’s ideal for feeding on large insects and small fruits. Roughly the size of red-winged blackbirds, summer tanagers in the western part of their range are 15% larger than the birds in the east.

Female Summer Tanager

Summer Tanager, Piranga Rubra
Female summer tanager at a nest

Unlike the bright red males, females are a leafy, greenish yellow color, blending into the trees even more. They can be hard to tell apart from some other tanagers.

Juvenile Summer Tanager

juvenile summer tanager
A juvenile summer tanager does not look like adults.

Juvenile summer tanagers aren’t even illustrated in most bird field guide books, because they wear this gray-brown plumage for such a brief time. On the bird above, gray-brown streaks of juvenile plumage are being replaced by the yellow feathers of its first-year immature plumage. In their first fall season, as they migrate to the tropics, young males are completely yellowish like adult females.

juvenile summer tanager
As the young birds molt, they show patchy yellow and red feathers.

Before they migrate north the next spring, they go through a partial molt, replacing some yellow feathers with red ones. Young male summer tanagers are tricky to identify, thanks to the tie-dye patterns of their feathers. Males about a year old can show blotchy patterns of red and green, or patchy red and yellow, a look that’s stumped many birders. No two birds show the exact same pattern. After their next molt, they have the solid rose-red coloring of the adult male.

Learn how to identify a western tanager.

Summer Tanager Song

summer tanager song
Male summer tanager singing
"I spotted this summer tanager while walking in the park. He seemed to enjoy the morning as much as I did, singing away for a long time."
Kimberly Miskiewicz
Birds & Blooms reader

All across the southern United States, from California to the Carolinas, a slow, lazy robin-like song is a clear sign that a summer tanager is present. Even if it isn’t singing, you may hear its characteristic call-note, a snappy pick-i-tuck. This species sounds the same across their range. The pit-tick-cluck call can reveal a tanager concealed in the canopy and is a familiar sound from April through June.

Bird sounds courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology 

Learn about why birds sing in spring.

How to Attract a Summer Tanager

how to attract birds
Attract summer tanagers with native plants, such as this beautyberry bush.

Summer tanagers are clever eaters. A nickname for the summer tanager is “bee bird” because it eats so many wasps and bees. People have observed them catching bees and wasps, flying to a branch, and rubbing the insects against it to remove their stingers before gobbling the bugs. To attract this species, plant native flowers that attract flying insects. These birds also enjoy overripe fruits like bananas and berries and may be drawn to birdbaths or other sources of water.

Summer tanagers aren’t likely to eat from traditional seed feeders, but this species can be enticed with offerings put out for orioles: nectar, oranges and grape jelly. They have also been known to hit the suet blocks, especially during cold snaps, and consider live mealworms a real treat. Beehives are tanager magnets, too. Their summer diet is mainly composed of insects, and they’re sometimes seen plucking bees out of the air.

Summer Tanager Range Map and Habitat

Summer Tanager Bsu0278
Adult male summer tanagers are bright red.

Summer tanagers are an explosion of color and look perfectly at home in the tropics, where they spend the winter. But during the warm season, they are found in their core breeding range, which includes the Southeast and stretches all the way into California, with sightings reported as far north as southern Ontario.

Interestingly, they favor different habitats in different regions. In the Southeast they are common in oak and pine forests, while those in the Southwest concentrate in tall cottonwood trees along lowland rivers. In fall they migrate to tropical wintering grounds that stretch all the way from Mexico to South America. During spring migration, summer tanagers and other North American songbirds have a long flight across the Gulf of Mexico.

For Christopher Joe, who runs Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours on his family’s cattle farm near Newbern, Alabama, the red of the summer tanager is exquisite. He first took note of the bird in spring 2020, when he and his dad saw a male land in a pecan tree in their front yard. Christopher finds summer tanagers most often in habitats “on the edge of pasture woodlands with oaks and some pines.”

Christopher says, “Wildlife plots that include some variety of clover are important as we see tanagers come for their favorite foods of wasps and bees.”

Next, check out 8 types of orioles to look for in North America.

Summer Tanager range Map

About the Expert

Family farmer, conservationist and birder Christopher Joe operates Connecting with Birds and Nature Tours near Newbern, Alabama. Christopher is a graduate of Alabama A&M University with a bachelor of science degree in agribusiness management.

Sources

Orchard Oriole vs. Baltimore Oriole

male and female orchard oriole
Female and male orchard orioles eat grape jelly out of an orange.

An oriole that’s smaller and much darker than a Baltimore oriole dashes through the flowering trees. The bird you’ve spotted is probably an orchard oriole. The two birds share similar markings, but where a male Baltimore oriole has a bright pop of orange, the orchard oriole sports a darker chestnut color. Male orchard orioles have black head feathers, a burnt orange chest, and a black tail and wings with white accents.

This is the smallest of the eight oriole species found north of Mexico. It has a wingspan of a little more than 9 inches. For comparison, the Baltimore oriole’s wingspan is nearly 12 inches.

Female Orchard Oriole

female orchard oriole
Female orchard oriole weaving a nest

Female orchard and female Baltimore orioles look alike, too. They share a warm-hued chest, head and tail feathers, but the female Baltimore has touches of tangerine orange while the orchard’s color runs closer to greenish yellow.

Female orchard orioles are the primary nest builders (though their mates may sometimes help), constructing their homes in forks of branches. Over the course of a week, they weave grass and other flexible plant fibers into a pouch or a basket, then line the nests with softer plant down and feathers.

Orchard Oriole Habitat

orchard oriole
Look for orchard orioles in spring and summer

Unlike some other birds, orchard orioles will share their territory in the summer. In fact, one tree may hold several nesting pairs. They build their homes alongside other bird species, too, such as American robins, eastern kingbirds and the look-alike Baltimore orioles.

Orchard orioles usually prefer open woodlands, lakeshores, parks, farms and, of course, orchards. They spend time in treetops and bushes where they forage for insects and spiders with their sharp, thin beaks.

Learn how to identify a Bullock’s oriole.

What Does an Orchard Oriole Eat?

female orchard oriole
Female orchard oriole on a hummingbird feeder in Marion, Illinois
"One great way to attract orioles is by offering orange halves. Just stick the oranges on a nail and enjoy watching the orioles feast."
Emma greig
project leader for Project FeederWatch

Early May is the perfect time to attract this species as the hungry migrants travel north. Just like Baltimore orioles, orchards have a sweet tooth and drop by backyards with the right spread of fruit and nectar offerings. They’re even known to stop at sugar-water feeders.

“One great way to attract orioles is by offering orange halves. Just stick the oranges on a nail and enjoy watching the orioles feast,” says Emma Greig, the project leader for Project FeederWatch of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

Grape jelly is always an oriole favorite, but serve it in moderation. If you’re worried about bugs eating more of the jelly than the birds do, Emma has a solution. “Try moving jelly feeders around your backyard periodically. Birds will notice them in their new locations more quickly than insects. And remember that insects are good creatures to have in your yard, especially pollinators like bees, so don’t despair if they insist on having a small share of the jelly.”

Orioles and hummingbirds love nectar, and they pollinate flowers by inadvertently transferring pollen from bloom to bloom as they feed. Orchard orioles sometimes bypass a flower’s pollen entirely, piercing the flower’s base and getting a taste for free. They also load up on berries, like ripe mulberries and chokeberries to help them on their journey south.

Check out birds that look like orioles.

Orchard Oriole Song

Male adult and juvenile orchard orioles perch on low trees to sing rapid, jumbled songs.

Orchard Oriole Range

Look for orchard orioles east of the Rocky Mountains in their breeding season, from the Gulf Coast to the Great Lakes. Migration back to their winter homes begins in mid-to-late summer, and even as early as mid-July.

Orchard Oriole range map

About the Expert

Emma Greig is the project leader of Project FeederWatch, a citizen science program, for the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Emma holds a Ph. D. from the University of Chicago and previously was a postdoctoral associate in Macaulay Library.

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