Every summer a stately tropical bird bearing distinctive, showy black and white patterns returns to our area. Its chest is bursting with brilliant vermilion, giving it the name Rose-breasted Grosbeak.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a joy to spot among summer foliage.
The male’s distinctive black, white, and red coloration is only worn in the summer. Before migrating south, they’ll molt to resemble rosier females. The brown-backed and streaky females resemble large finches. Both sexes make cheery songs that are similar to robins but more melodious, as if it took singing lessons. Although they are considered common, their population has been steadily declining, making it important to help preserve this treasure.
After flying thousands of miles to get here, they get busy raising a family. They seek out open, deciduous forests, preferring areas near water. Both sexes contribute to nest building, incubation, and rearing of the young. They feed the young various insects like beetles, true bugs, and caterpillars, including the dreaded spongy moth caterpillars. Because they do rely on insects to feed their young, if you have a Grosbeak family in your area, insecticides should be used sparingly, cautiously, and only when necessary.
You can coax Rose-breasted Grosbeaks out by providing food and water sources.
Typically, Grosbeaks remain hidden in the treetop foliage, seeming to only grudgingly come into plain view. Creating an attractive habitat with trees and shrubs can attract these beautiful birds to your area.
Native trees are a beautiful part of their food web that we can appreciate too. Planting native deciduous tree species like Brandywine Maple, Autumn Blaze Maple or even a Tulip Tree is a great way to enhance and enrich their, and your, habitat. They will also appreciate midsummer fruiting berry bushes. Grosbeaks are not readily considered fruit eaters, but they love dark berries. Consider adding some Serviceberry, Elderberry, and Viburnum to your landscape. Without carotenoids like those found in fruit, these birds couldn’t produce the red coloration we find so attractive. And, of course, adding a birdbath with clean, moving water will also attract their attention and draw them near.
Today, attracting specific bird species is easy with expertly developed and crafted seed products and mixes. With recent ‘zero waste’ blends, backyard bird watchers benefit from feed that doesn’t leave behind a mess, attracting less unwanted critters. Adult Grosbeaks, like the related Cardinal, have a penchant for large seeds, especially craving safflower and sunflower.
Quality seed blocks, seed cakes and seed logs are great options to attract Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. Suet Cakes are also a favorite. While Rose-breasted Grosbeaks won’t come exclusively to suet cakes, they will appreciate the calories, especially before and after migration. And Rose-Breasted Grosbeak aren’t overly territorial so several can visit the feeders simultaneously, which is a delight to spot.
Watch for them all summer!
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