Like a robin, but so much prettier

That’s how the song of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak is described.

rose-breasted grosbeak

With his striking black and white plumage and rosy feather boa around his chest (which continues under his wing), this guy is a backyard favorite. A bill this big and sturdy should be used to crunch big seeds, but for the past two days, he has been ignoring the sunflower seeds and pigging out on suet instead.


He’s a contortionist, hanging upside down to pick off chunks from the bottom of the suet feeder.

You're kind of a messy eater, bud.

You’re kind of a messy eater, bud.

This is an interesting bird.  It’s more closely related to cardinals (same family) than finches, even though it looks like a big finch.  The female is streaked with finchy brown and white color and looks like a big sparrow.  It hybridizes with the Black-headed Grosbeak where their ranges overlap in the Great Plains, so these two are apparently not separate species, despite their gaudy color differences.  And to emphasize the latter point, the rose-colored breast is not the definitive signal of male-ness, the white patches on rump and wing are!

But the song is sweet and plaintive, and one of the prettier sounds of spring, as this YouTube video shows. (Lang Elliott,

10 thoughts on “Like a robin, but so much prettier

  1. Such a beautiful bird! I’ve only seen one here in my backyard. He was traveling through with an indigo bunting and a few goldfinches. However, there is a park on the west coast where huge flocks of them stop to feast in the mulberry trees there, on the way back north. The always look like their breasts are stained with mulberry juice.

    Great photos, Sue, and I love the video, too. Maybe he is trying to put some fat back on with that suet. He probably just finished a long journey, himself. Your part of the world is really coming awake now. Thanks for sharing.

    • Wow, what a picture that would make: indigo, yellow, black and pink. Hope you had your camera that day. 😊 Yes, it is finally above freezing here and thing are starting to green up. It’s always a race to see if the leaves get here before the warblers do.

      • Sadly, I no longer have a good camera, and the year that this happened, I had to use my old iPhone, trying to snap blurry pictures through a screen door. I got shots that proved what was there, but nothing you could see with any clarity. Very blurry, and dark. Just enough color that you could tell what the birds were. Same thing happened to me when I had a painted bunting and a summer tanager who came to my feeder together for three straight years during migration. So strange that the two seemed to travel together. And stranger yet that the summer tanager, an insect eater, spent so much time stocking up on sunflower chips.(Sometimes the birds don’t read the books that explain what they eat and where they will show up.) 😀

        I needed YOU and your wonderful camera there! Then I would have had some truly gorgeous shots. Haven’t seen any of these birds lately, except the goldfinches. They pass through twice a year like clockwork.

  2. I wish I was faster on the camera trigger because I had a chance for a shot of the grosbeak as it was coming in for landing on the feeder. Its rosy pink feathers under the wing and on the breast coupled with the striking black and white body make it one of the prettiest birds I have seen here (tied with the red-headed woodpecker).

  3. Pingback: The sweet song of spring | Back Yard Biology

Please Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s