Published Date Written by David EastmanA male rose-breasted grosbeak singing from the tops of larger shade trees can equal the volume and vigor of the Baltimore oriole and scarlet tanager, both of whom are also around. This plump bird with its striking coloration of shiny, black head and snowy white underparts is set off by a large, spectacularly bright, rosy-red triangular patch on its breast, and is certainly a welcome addition to the early summer outdoors scene. His shy, sparrow-looking mate is probably hovering down below in the leafy branches, accompanying him.
They are both here because of the big red and sugar maples, red oaks, or other huge shade trees that border my yard, and which reach over the driveway into these home grounds. Rose-breasted grosbeaks like the perimeter of mature woodlands where they just meet the garden, and orchard, or a lane. These birds live where deciduous forests open onto pastures, clearings, or old fields just beyond my homestead's dooryard.
His call always confuses me--because I know it's one of those "spring-arrival-calls" meaning a new bird is suddenly here, be it an oriole, scarlet tanager, or this particular bird species, but I always forget which one until I have to go see for myself. The loudness and tone of all these are similar, and robin-like, according to various bird books. Playing a CD or tape cassette of these recorded bird calls and songs is a good exercise to become familiar with those species we commonly hear in the emerging springtime.
But, please do that — because they never "sound like a robin to my ear" in this suggestion. I personally believe these three colorful species have to be loud to get their calling accomplished through the dense, leafy canopies of the shade trees their mates nest in. Maybe their colorful plumage also reflects their full-crowned, canopy life, where they really have to display — to keep other males from finding their mates on their nest, with all that considerable greenery around them, and then breed with her. At any rate, none of these three male birds seems to want to be secretive in the least.
The male rose-breasted grosbeak's colorfulness is definitely not reflected in equal amounts of aggressiveness, however. The slightly larger evening grosbeak is sometimes still around, and is much more competitive at the feeder than this docile bird. Here, the beautiful red-chested male awaits his turn, and doesn't want to even get acquainted with this chunkier relative that can so readily hog the feeders. The rose-breasted grosbeak will be here all summer after its yellow-and-black cousin has left for the evergreen covered mountains.
He and his mate will soon construct a nest in one of the yard's big shade trees, probably in a fork ten-to-twenty feet off the ground. The nest is known to be so flimsy, that you can often see the eggs right through it, whenever viewed from below. He not only shares some of the nest-building tasks, but will take his turn incubating the eggs, singing joyously all the while, with no attempt at being discreet about the nest's whereabouts.
This activity flies in the face of ecologists' thoughts that brightly colored males avoid the nest-building and incubating duties that go with raising a family, because their brilliant coloring can reveal the exact location of the nest to predators.
The rose-breasted grosbeak female looks like a big sister to her female purple finch relation. She does look quite identical, just considerably bigger. There is a streak of drab brown across her eyes, bordered by two lighter but not quite white stripes, which differentiate these two females' plumage from other finch family members.
Seeing several of the remarkably colored males throughout the summer is reason enough to want to keep the black-oil sunflower seed well-stocked in the feeders. You will soon recognize the young birds, in their developing attire, with some white spots, and know a new family has been produced. Around your property in late summer, rose-breasted grosbeaks will love the ripening cherries, including their pits.
This is a bird species that particularly loves the scarlet elder as its food source. Don't be surprised to see these colorful, deep woods, red berry-producing shrubs brought to your yard by this remarkable bird — while consuming the black cherry trees' crop you also have. Both fruiting plants produce their fruits at the same time then, and the rose-breasted grosbeak will demonstrate that by bringing the scarlet elder seeds within the eaten red berries to your domicile; sometimes from far away. Soon you will have the deep crimson clusters of this bird feeding shrub added to your other forage shrubbery production's array of seasonal food for migrants. Where the remote woodland plant lives, you probably never would have found this elder to transplant home, without the help of the musical rose-breasted grosbeak.