From the end of March through September the Black-headed Grosbeaks make their way up our coast from Central America. Welcome these big-billed birds to your yard with Striped Sunflower seeds served in a tray feeder.
Size & Shape-
Black-headed Grosbeaks are hefty songbirds with very large bills that are conical and thick at the base. They have large heads and short, thick necks. A short tail imparts a compact, chunky look.
Breeding males are rich orange-cinnamon with a black head and black-and-white wings. Females and immature males are brown above with warm orange or buff on the breast, and some have streaks on the sides of the breast. All have grayish bills. In flight, they flash bright yellow under the wings.
Often hidden as they hop about in dense foliage gleaning insects and seeds, Black-headed Grosbeaks feed readily on sunflower seeds at feeders. Males sing in a rich, whistled lilt from treetops in spring and summer. The short, squeaky chip note is distinctive and can be a good way to find these birds.
Look for Black-headed Grosbeaks in mixed woodlands and edges from mountain forests to thickets along desert streams to backyards and gardens. Ideal habitat includes some large trees and a diverse understory.
Fun Facts About Grosbeaks
- The Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeak have unusual diets for birds with such a big seed eating beak. Throughout most of the year, over half of their diet is made up of insects. Their huge beaks allows them to eat large grasshoppers, crickets and other insects that have tough exoskeletons.
- The Black-headed Grosbeak's scientific names are both well-suited. Its species name, melanocephalus, means "black-headed.” And its genus name,Pheucticus, refers either to the Greek pheuticus for "shy" or phycticus meaning "painted with cosmetics," fitting for a showy bird that forages in dense foliage.
- By singing a "male" song, the female Black-headed Grosbeak can trick her mate into thinking a rival male is nearby, forcing him to stay closer to the nest.
- Black-headed Grosbeaks eat insects, weed seeds and fruits. Sunflower seeds are their favorite feeder food.
- The male Black-headed Grosbeak does not get its adult breeding plumage until it is two years old. First-year males can vary from looking like a female to looking nearly like an adult male. Only yearling males that most closely resemble adult males are able to defend a territory and attempt to breed.
- Black-headed Grosbeaks are one of the few birds capable of eating toxic monarch butterflies. They discard the wings before eating the butterfly in an apparent attempt to reduce the amount of toxins they ingest.
- The Black-headed Grosbeak, along with the Black-backed Oriole are the two primary avian predators of the over-winter populations of Monarch Butterflies found in Mexico. Combined they are responsible for more than 60% of Monarch mortality at many of the Mexican roosting sites.
- These two species feed twice daily at the roosts in mixed flocks of five to at least 60 birds and annually consume several million Monarchs in the Mexican roosts.
- At one 5.5 acre Monarch butterfly colony, Black-headed Grosbeaks, along with the Black-backed Orioles ate an average of 15,000 butterflies a day. It is estimated that over 2 million butterflies were consumed during the entire winter resulting in almost a 10 % reduction of the roost's entire population.
- Black-headed Grosbeaks have been known to feed at oriole nectar feeders.
- The oldest known Black-headed Grosbeak was 11 years, 11 months old.
- The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak shares incubation duties with the female and is known to even sing while sitting on the nest.
- The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is beneficial to farmers, consuming many potato beetles and weed seeds.
- The Rose-breasted Grosbeak will breed with the Black-headed Grosbeak in areas where their ranges overlap.
- Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are known for singing on moonlit nights, sometimes all night, but never very loudly.
- The nests of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are commonly parasitized by the Brown-headed Cowbird, possibly due to the singing done by both the male and female as they construct the nest.
- Rose-breasted Grosbeaks’ preferred feeder items are sunflower, safflower and peanuts
- The nests of the Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeaks are so thinly constructed that eggs often can be seen from below through the nest.
- The males of both the Rose-breasted and Black-headed Grosbeak share equally in incubating eggs and feeding young, despite having a much showier plumage than their respective females.
Be on the lookout for these rare grosbeaks as well!