Rose-Breasted Grosbeak

(Pheucticus ludovicianus)

The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, boldly patterned in black, white, and rose, is easily identified.

The drab, striped female, however, is more of a challenge, resembling a large sparrow or finch.

A common bird of forests and second growth, the grosbeak's song is like that of the robin, only as sung by an opera singer, being mellower and more sweetly melodic.

This bird is often attracted to sunflower feeders in your yard.

Physical Description:

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are sexually dimorphic in plumage pattern.

Males have vivid black and white feathers with a rose-colored throat, females have brown and white streaked plumage, with a distinct, buffy eye stripe.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are 7.1 to 8.3 inches long (18 to 21.5 cm long).

Rose-breasted grosbeak

Males have a black head, white bill, are black and white dorsally and have a white belly and breast, topped with their rosy throat.

No two birds have the same wing markings or white spots.

Females are brown with white markings above and buffy with brown streaks on the belly, breast, and throat.

Immature and non-breeding males take on some female plumage characteristics, such as the buffy white superciliary stripe and some brown and streaked plumage.

Rose-Breasted Females are almost identical to females of the closely related black-headed grosbeaks, although they tend to have more streaking on their breasts.

Mating and Nesting:

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks are monogamous, but no research has been done on extra-pair copulations. Pair bonds are formed in spring on the breeding grounds, when females approach territorial, singing males. Males may first reach aggressively towards females.

Males use several kinds of courtship displays with females. The rapid warble flight and wing-fluff, both of which are accompanied by a warbling song.

Mock fights involve the male flying slowly with his tail spread and with small movements of the wings, the wing-fluff involves the male holding his wings out to the side with his tail spread and moving his head and body from side to side as he hops on a branch.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks begin building nests in May and lay from 1 to 5 (usually 4) pale, bluish-green eggs speckled with darker colors. Nests are constructed in trees, shrubs, or vines from three feet to 50 feet high.

Female Rose-breasted grosbeak

Nests are constructed of loosely woven grass and twigs formed into cup-shapes. Finer materials line the nest, such as shredded bark, pine needles, and fine grasses.

Generally 1 brood is laid each year, although second broods are sometimes attempted. Females lay eggs about once per day until the clutch size is reached and begin incubating at the next to last egg laid. Eggs hatch asynchronously from 11 to 14 days after the beginning of incubation and young fledge after 9 to 12 days.

They provide up to 75% crushed insects to the young.

The young are dependent on their parents for another 3 weeks after fledging and remain with the parents throughout the summer until migration.

Young are able to breed in their first year after hatching. Both females and males incubate the eggs and brood the young. Young are altricial at hatching, with light down. Males and females both provide food for the young throughout their nestling period.

Home Range:

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks often return to the same breeding area year after year.

There is no published information on home range size, but there is some evidence that males disperse farther from natal sites than do females.


This species of grosbeak is migratory, with no overlap in breeding and wintering ranges.

They avoid migrating across Great Plains habitats. They leave their wintering grounds from mid-March to mid-April, arriving on the breeding grounds as early as late March and as late as early May.

In fall, southward migrations begin in early September and continue into early November. They migrate at night, usually in small flocks or alone.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks hop on the ground and have an undulating flight pattern. When startled they often freeze and they will flick their wings, spread their tails, raise their head feathers, and give chase in aggressive encounters. Males exclude other males from breeding territories and females exclude other females.

Communication and Perception:

This grosbeak is known for their lovely, melodic song. Males sing to advertise breeding territories, up to 689 songs in a day. Females may also sing when they are building nests. Other calls used include a sharp "chink" contact call and various squawks, chuks, and hurrrs used in different contexts.

Young first make sounds at 6 days after hatching and young males produce their first songs at about 30 days old. Songs seems to be learned.

Rose-breasted grosbeak


These grosbeaks eat seeds, fruit, and insects, with proportions varying seasonally. During the breeding season they eat approximately 52% insects and 48% seeds and fruit. They may also eat the ovaries of flowers.

During migration they rely heavily on fruits. There is less known about winter range diet, except that it includes fruits and oil-rich seeds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks forage throughout forest canopy levels and occasionally on the ground.

They glean insects from leaves or can hover or kite to capture insects.

They often eat the fruiting body off of seeds or extract only the germ of seeds to eat. Insects eaten include beetles, including Colorado potato beetles, bees and ants, bugs, and butterfly larvae.

They prey heavily on wild fruits such as elderberry, red-berried elder, blackberry and raspberry, mulberry, and juneberry,

They feed on weed seeds, such as smartweed, pigweed, foxtail, milkweed, and sunflowers.

Grosbeaks freely come to feeders for Black oil sunflowers and peanut pieces.

Notes of Interest:

No two males look alike. Much like human finger prints, as feather patterns and white spots differ from bird to bird.

Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks can hybridize with their close relatives, black-headed grosbeaks (Pheucticus melanocephalus), especially in Nebraska and the Dakotas. There seems to be assortative mating in areas of hybridization, with hybrids preferring to mate with other hybrids.

Hybrid females lay smaller clutch sizes, on average.

The oldest reported wild bird was banded at almost 13 years old. Captive birds have lived up to 24 years.

Estimates of annual survival are 48% in young birds and 61% in adults.

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