Tag Archives: Grosbeaks

Grosbeaks in region include blue, rose-breasted representatives of family

 

Daryl Herron, a real-life friend as well as a Facebook one, posted a photo of a bird on my page recently, seeking help with identifying the bird. His sister, Monica Cody, took the photo at her Kingsport home. The stunning bird depicted in the photo, as I happily reported back to Daryl, was a blue grosbeak. The grosbeak is an impressive bird, with males showing off an overall blue plumage save for some brown and black feathers in the wings.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/ David Brezinski Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will likely be among the colorful birds present for this year's rally.

Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service/ David Brezinski
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will likely be among the colorful birds present for this year’s rally.

Blue grosbeaks are mostly southern birds with Tennessee, Kentucky and Virginia representing the northern tier of this bird’s range in the southeastern part of the country. Look for these chunky, blue birds in brushy fields or along hedgerows in fairly open country. They favor the same habitats as such birds as yellow-breasted chat, brown thrasher and loggerhead shrike.

BlueGrosbeak-CODY

Photo by Monica Cody                    This male blue grosbeak showed up near Monica Cody’s home in Kingsport, Tennessee. The blue grosbeak is an uncommon visitor in the region.

It’s a shame this bird isn’t more common in the region. Blue grosbeaks will visit feeders, but in more than 20 years of maintaining well-stocked feeders, I’ve managed to attract only one of these birds. If more common, it would surely be a favorite bird among the people offering free seed for their feathered friends.

The blue grosbeak is related to the better-known rose-breasted grosbeak. Male rose-breasted grosbeaks are absolutely stunning, especially for people getting their first-ever glimpse of this bird. It’s the adult male with his vibrant black and white feathers and the large rosy-red splash of color across the breast that gives this bird its common name. Females are brown, streaked birds that are larger than but easily confused with some of our sparrows.

Among grosbeaks, both sexes have a massive bill, which they use to hull sunflower seeds at feeders or glean insects from leaves and branches. It’s the heavy, blunt bill for which the term “grosbeak” is derived. “Gros” is a German term for large or big, so grosbeak simply means a large-beaked bird. People who band birds to further the study of them will tell you that rose-breasted grosbeaks have a wicked bite and are capable of delivering quite a nip. Bird banders in the region frequently encounter rose-breasted grosbeaks in their mist nets — and some bear the scars to prove it.

Tammie-RBGrosbeak

Photo by Tammie Kroll                                      The male rose-breasted grosbeak is probably one of the least difficult songbirds to identify with his unmistakable plumage pattern.

The spring arrival of rose-breasted grosbeaks is usually a fleeting visit. Finding suitable arrangements, which can consist of well-stocked feeders and perhaps a convenient water source, the migrating birds may linger for several days. These birds nest at higher elevations, however, and are usually impatient to continue the journey to where they will spend the summer months tending to their young.

This spring, Tammie Kroll was one of the lucky people to receive visits from rose-breasted grosbeaks. Tammie emailed me to share a beautiful photo she took of the male grosbeak that visited her home in Washington County, Virginia, near Exit 13 off Interstate 81.

There’s good news for those who didn’t receive springtime visits from these pretty birds. The rose-breasted grosbeak is also a common fall migrant and can again be attracted to yards offering sources of food and water. While males usually don’t look quite as dramatic by August and September, they’re still sure to cause a stir when visiting a feeder.

RM-RBGrosbeak

Photo by Bryan Stevens                                         A rose-breasted grosbeak sings from a tree on Roan Mountain, Tennessee.

 

Plenty of rose-breasted grosbeaks pass through northeast Tennessee, southwestern Virginia and western North Carolina, and a few even decide to make their summer homes in the mountains in these regions. However, these birds spread out widely across the eastern half of the North American continent, ranging from northeastern British Columbia to Quebec and Nova Scotia in Canada. They also range south from New Jersey to Georgia. The rose-breasted grosbeak also reaches Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.

blue-grosbeak-john-james-audubon

John James Audubon painted this family of  blue grosbeaks.

For the most part, however, the rose-breasted grosbeak is replaced in the western United States by the closely related black-headed grosbeak. I saw several of these birds during a trip to Salt Lake City, Utah, back in 2006. Other grosbeaks in the United States include the evening grosbeak and pine grosbeak. In the American tropics other grosbeaks are found, including the descriptively named yellow-green grosbeak, crimson-collared grosbeak, ultramarine grosbeak and yellow-shouldered grosbeak.

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Bryan Stevens lives near Roan Mountain, Tennessee. To learn more about birds and other topics from the natural world, friend Stevens on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ahoodedwarbler. He is always posting about local birds, wildlife, flowers, insects and much more. If you have a question, wish to make a comment or share a sighting, email ahoodedwarbler@aol.com.

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks provide splash of springtime excitement

 

Other than Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, the one bird whose return in the spring is guaranteed to generate excitement is the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Every spring, I get phone calls and emails from people wanting to share the thrill of seeing these vibrant birds in their back yards.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A Rose-breasted Grosbeak finds a meal of sunflower seeds at a feeder.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A Rose-breasted Grosbeak finds a meal of sunflower seeds at a feeder.

The spring arrival of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks is a temporary visit. Finding the arrangements, which can consist of well-stocked feeders and perhaps a convenient water source, the migrating birds may linger for several days. These birds nest at higher elevations, however, and are usually impatient to continue the journey to where they will spend the summer months tending to their young.

This year, my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak arrived at my home on Simerly Creek Road in Hampton around 3:30 p.m. on Friday, April 25. I saw a glimpse of black and white with a hint of red that lifted my spirits instantly. I had been hoping for about a week that migrating grosbeaks would visit as they often do in the spring. The lone male settled onto a small hanging feeder and began enjoying an offering of black-oil sunflower seeds. He made repeated trips throughout the afternoon and evening, allowing me to take several photos through a window.

Some of my posted photos drew enthusiastic comments from my Facebook friends. Dani Sue Thompson shared that the beautiful Rose-breasted Grosbeak is one of her favorite birds. Her mother, the late Donna Adams, was a huge fan of the related Blue Grosbeak, which is a less common visitor to Northeast Tennessee than the related Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Donna and I share many a grosbeak story over the years.

Byron Tucker, a friend from Atlanta, notified me on Facebook the day before the Rose-breasted Grosbeak arrived at my home that he was hosting them in Georgia. From a single bird to a flock of three males and three females, these visitors were a first for Byron. He was excited to host these colorful birds for several days at his feeders.

Photo Courtesy of Byron Tucker A Rose-breasted Grosbeak joins a Red-bellied Woodpecker at a feeder in Atlanta.

Photo Courtesy of Byron Tucker
A Rose-breasted Grosbeak joins a Red-bellied Woodpecker at a feeder in Atlanta.

Single birds are occasionally the first to arrive, but Rose-breasted Grosbeaks do form flocks when migrating. Even if a scout shows up alone at your feeders, he will often soon be joined by other grosbeaks. My recent visit by a single male led to two and then three males visiting the feeders. Eventually a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak also made an appearance.

Plenty of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks pass through Northeast Tennessee, and a few even decide to make mountains like Unaka, Holston and Roan their home for the summer. However, these birds spread out widely across the eastern half of the North American continent, ranging from northeastern British Columbia to Quebec and Nova Scotia in Canada. They also range south from New Jersey to Georgia. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak also reaches Colorado, Oklahoma and Kansas.

For the most part, however, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak is replaced in the western United States by the closely related Black-headed Grosbeak.

As fall approaches, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak migrates south to a winter range that spans central Mexico, Central America and northern South America. As they depart, many of these migrating birds will make autumn visits to again partake of offerings of sunflower seeds at backyard feeders. So, if you don’t get to see these showy birds in the spring, you get another chance in September and October.

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak gives this species it name. Males are the epitome of the birds that make their home for part of the year in the American tropics. The contrasting black and white plumage is emphasized by a triangular slash of rosy-red color on the breast. Put all those elements together and the male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is not a bird that would be mistaken for any other.

The female grosbeak, however, doesn’t quite stand out in the same way. She is much less colorful than the male. With her brown and white plumage, she is often mistaken for a large sparrow or finch.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in September of 2013. Young males resemble females but show a splash of orange on the breast that will be replaced the following spring by the familiar rosy-red patch.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A young male Rose-breasted Grosbeak visits a feeder in September of 2013. Young males resemble females but show a splash of orange on the breast that will be replaced the following spring by the familiar rosy-red patch.

Both sexes have a massive bill, which they use to hull sunflower seeds at feeders or glean insects from leaves and branches. It’s the heavy, blunt bill for which the term “grosbeak” is derived. “Gros” is a German term for large or big, so grosbeak simply means a large-beaked bird. People who band birds to further the study of them will tell you that Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have a wicked bite and are capable of delivering quite a nip. In Northeast Tennessee, bird banders frequently encounter Rose-breasted Grosbeaks in their mist nets — and bear the scars to prove it.

With some birds, males play only a minor role in the nesting process. That’s not the case with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak male. The males help with nest-building chores and share responsibility with the female for incubating the eggs.

The female lays three to five eggs in a cup-shaped nest. It’s not easy to locate the nests since the birds usually place them in trees at least 20 feet above the ground. Within two weeks, the eggs have hatched and the parents are kept extremely busy finding enough food to satisfy the voracious nestlings. Well fed by both parents, the young grow quickly and usually are ready to leave the nest within 12 days. Often, when a first brood of young departs the nest, the male will care for the rowdy group of fledglings as the female starts a second nest to capitalize on the long days of summer.

Away from our feeders, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feed on insects, seeds, fruit and even some leaf buds and flowers. I’ve seen these birds satisfying a sweet tooth — or should that be sweet beak? — by feeding on jewelweed flowers and apple blossoms. If sugar’s good for hummingbirds, I am sure it is a valuable energy source for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, too.

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a cherished spring visitor that never fails to disappoint by bringing a hint of the tropics to the mountains of Northeast Tennessee. I’m hoping many readers are also enjoying their own opportunities for hosting this delightful songbird.

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The bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site on Saturday, April 26, yielded a good range of birds, including American Robin, House Wren, Cardinal, Song Sparrow, Carolina Chickadee, American Goldfinch, Tufted Titmouse, Crow, Canada Goose, Chimney Swift, Brown Thrasher, Barn Swallow, Eastern Towhee, European Starling, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Chipping Sparrow, Mallard, Red-winged Blackbird, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Turkey Vulture, Black Vulture, Northern Flicker, Grackle, Gray Catbird, Blue Jay, Mourning Dove and Eastern Bluebird.

Photo by Bryan Stevens A pair of Brown Thrashers provided quite a show for attendees at a recent bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
A pair of Brown Thrashers provided quite a show for attendees at a recent bird walk at Tipton-Haynes Historic Site.

Attending the walk were Heather Jones, Charles Moore, David Thometz and myself. We enjoyed perfect spring weather and also admired the many wildflowers in the gardens and woodlands at the Johnson City historic site.

Members of the Lee and Lois Herndon Chapter of the Tennessee Ornithological Society will also hold a bird walk at 8 a.m. on Saturday, May 10, at Sycamore Shoals State Historic Park in Elizabethton. This walk is held in honor of International Migratory Bird Day and should provide participants with an excellent opportunity for seeing some fine birds.

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I enjoy hearing from readers. Share a sighting, ask a question or make a comment by emailing me at ahoodedwarbler@aol.com or posting to my Facebook page.

Photo by Bryan Stevens The Rose-breasted Grosbeak never fails to impress.

Photo by Bryan Stevens
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak never fails to impress.