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Rose-breasted Grosbeak

(Pheucticus ludovicianus)
Banded May 25, 2000 - Newport, Indiana

General Information

The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is one of five species of grosbeaks that occur in North America. The Rose-breasted, Black-headed and Blue Grosbeaks, members of the family Emberizidae (buntings, sparrows), are Neotropical migrants that nest in the USA but withdraw to Mexico and Central America in the winter months. 

The Pine and Evening Grosbeaks, members of the family Fringillidae (finches, crossbills) are resident in North America.

All have a characteristic massive bill.

 

The male has a colorful black and white pattern with a prominent red chest. Immature males look more like the female but with a rosy patch on a buffy chest. They are about 7-8.5 inches long with a wingspan of 12 to 13 inches. Weights range from 38 to 54 grams (1.3 to 2 ounces).

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 1 - Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 2 - Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

The female is drab and cryptic, an adaptation that allows her to effectively hide herself while incubating eggs in the nest.

The male has a heavy bill and a jet black head. The male has a lovely song described as long, liquid and robin-like. The female also sings but has a shorter, softer song. Both may sing from the nest. Where ranges overlap, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will hybridize with the western Black-headed Grosbeak.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 3 - Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 4 - Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

The heavy bill of the grosbeak is used to glean food from trees. Diet consists of insects, seeds, and some fruits. Their insect diet consists of beetles, locusts, cankerworms, tent caterpillars, tussock moths, gypsy moths and other insect pests, thus making them an economically beneficial species.

The upper wing of the male is strongly patterned with white patches on a black wing.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 5 - Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 6 - Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

The female has brownish wings with a subdued white pattern.

The underwing of the male is black with a white patch and rosy wing linings that can be seen when the bird is flying overhead.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 7 - Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 8 - Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

The female has lemon wing linings also visible when flying overhead.

The male has a jet black tail with large white patches on the outer tail feathers.

Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak
Figure 9 - Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak

 

Nesting Behavior

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks prefer to breed in scrub woodland and shrubby growth by streams and wooded edges. The nest, built by the female with help from the male, is a loose cup of small twigs and grasses placed in a shrub or small tree. From 3-5 eggs, incubated by both sexes, hatch in 12 to 14 days. Young, tended by both parents, leave the nest in 9 - 12 days but depend on the adults for another 3 weeks or so.

Banding Recoveries

According to the Bird Banding Lab web page, 88,092 Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were banded between 1914 and 1998. Of these, 1,364 have been recovered.

Banding studies show that Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are medium distance migrants that live 9 or more years in the wild. Captive birds have lived from 15 to 24 years.

Conservation Status and Economic Importance

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks provide an important economic service by consuming large numbers of destructive insect pests such as grasshoppers, cankerworms, tent caterpillars, tussock moths, gypsy moths, brown-tailed moths, and the Colorado potato beetle, which gives it its local name potato-bug bird. Unfortunately, populations are declining in many areas, especially in the east.

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