Illustration: Rose-breasted grosbeak

Illustration by Diane Pierce


Map: Rose-breasted grosbeak range


The striking rose-breasted grosbeak is a common bird of wooded habitats across much of eastern and midwestern North America. Singing from the canopy of a deciduous forest, even a brightly colored male can be difficult to locate. Late in the summer and during migration, it often feeds in fruiting trees. Monotypic. Length 8" (20 cm).

Identification Sexually dimorphic. Takes more than a year to acquire adult plumage. Adult male: unique in North America. Its black head, throat, back, wings, and tail contrast with gleaming white underparts and rump. Gets its name from a conspicuous bright rosy pink patch on the breast. Note the white wing bar and patches on black wing, and rose-red wing linings. Large, pinkish bill. Adult female: mainly brown above with streaks, paler below with extensive dark streaking. Yellow wing linings. Winter male: molts into winter plumage before migrating. Brown-edged head and upperparts, barred rump, and dark streaks on sides and flanks. Wings as in adult. First-fall male: has buffy wash with fine streaks across breast, usually with some pink feathers visible on sides of breast. First-spring male: similar in pattern to adult male, but all of the black plumage is tinged brown, particularly the head, wings, and tail.

Similar Species Males in most plumages unmistakable. Plumage of females and first-fall males is very similar to plumage of female black-headed grosbeak.

Voice Call: a sharp eek, squeakier than the black-headed’s. Song: a robinlike series of warbled phrases, but shorter. Songs are similar to those of the black-headed grosbeak.

Status and Distribution Common. Breeding: nests commonly in deciduous forest habitats, mainly in eastern United States, but ranging northwest to northeastern British Columbia. Winter: mainly Mexico, Central America, and rarely Cuba; casual in southern United States, including coastal California. Migration: peak spring migratory period in eastern United States mid-April–­mid-May; peak fall migratory period mid-August–mid-October. Often seen in flocks during migratory fallouts. Vagrant: regular during late spring and fall in the Southwest. Casual, mainly in October, to United Kingdom and Europe.

Population Possible decline due to forest fragmentation.

—From the National Geographic book Complete Birds of North America, 2006

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