Thank you for joining me for another edition of In Scope. For the month of May, I'm featuring the Black-headed Grosbeak, a beautiful migratory bird that spends the spring and summer in our area.
I always look forward to the arrival of the Black-headed Grosbeaks. Their striking, gorgeous colors are a special treat to see each spring and summer and I always know when they have arrived when I hear their sweet voices singing from the trees !
There is a lot to learn about these beautiful songsters ~ Let's learn more about the Black-headed Grosbeak !
Did you know....
Black-headed Grosbeaks are among the only birds who can feed on Monarch butterflies ~ an insect that is poisonous to most other birds.
Unlike many species of birds, where the male does most of the singing and territory defending and the female mostly incubates the eggs and feeds the young ~ Black-headed Grosbeak pairs share all of these responsibilities. In addition to singing and defending territory, the male also incubates the eggs and feeds the young. Likewise the female, in addition to incubating the eggs and feeding young ~ she also sings and defends their territory.
The male Black-headed Grosbeak performs an elaborate courtship display for the female during the breeding season. These 8 - 10 second long displays consist of the male flying up in the air from a particular perch ~ spreading his wings and tail to show off his white wing bars and tail markings, singing at the same time. He continues to fly up until he is several feet in the air and then comes back to his perch.
The Black-headed Grosbeak's rich song sounds much like the song of the American Robin, but it is sung faster and in a sweeter tone. Both male and female sing. The female's song is simpler and quieter than the male's and also less frequent. She usually sings while sitting on the nest.
Grosbeaks are members of the finch family, but they look a bit different and are much bigger than most other finches. One of their unique characteristics is their beak which is a large conical shape that enables grosbeaks to crush large, firm seeds and nuts and insects with hard shells. A relative species to the Black-headed Grosbeak in our area is the Evening Grosbeak. Because of their tough seed cracking ability, when large flocks of Evening Grosbeaks gather at a feeding station in the winter, the sound of the flock's many beaks cracking seeds, sounds much like the popping and cracking of flames in a campfire or fireplace.
There are seven different species of Grosbeaks ~ three of which regularly visit Washington State. We have the Black-headed, Evening and Pine Grosbeaks. (Depending on where you live in Washington State, you may have the opportunity to see all three !) The four other species of Grosbeaks are, the Crimson-collared, Rose-breasted, Yellow and Blue Grosbeaks.
God Thought of It First !
People over the years have come up with ways to make different things better by creating hybrids ~ there are hybrid cars that run on electricity and gas, hybrid plants that produce hybrid flowers and/or fruit and even hybrid animals (mixed breed dogs, cats and even horses)! But did you know that God created the Black-headed Grosbeak of Western North America with the ability to breed with the Rose-breasted Grosbeak that lives in Eastern North America ? That's right ~ God thought of it first ! Black-headed and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed together where their ranges overlap ~ creating a hybrid bird that is a Black-headed Rose-breasted Grosbeak cross. The offspring of these so called 'mismatched' pairs can look like the species of either parent or a combination of both.
Feeding and Gardening for Grosbeaks
The Black-headed Grosbeaks are seed, fruit and insect eaters. There are a wide range of things you can offer to make your garden appealing to grosbeaks. Here are just a few ideas:
The Black-headed Grosbeak's favorite feeder food is sunflower seed. They enjoy a hopper feeder filled with sunflower seed and will certainly come on a daily basis if they find a reliable source of food like sunflower seed. They will also eat some suet and safflower seeds. You may also want to try expanding your feeder offerings for grosbeaks by adding apple slices, millet, peanuts (not in the shell) and other fruit to the menu. Grosbeaks will also drink nectar from feeders set out for orioles !
Since Black-headed Grosbeaks are fruit and seed eaters in addition to their insect diet, these birds benefit from a variety of seed and fruit bearing plants. Here's a list of some of their favorites:
Plant List for Fruit:
Fruit Trees like:
Apricots, Cherries, Crab Apples, Mulberries, Figs, and Prunes
And Plants such as:
Elderberries and StrawberriesThey also like seeds from plants such as:
Sunflower, Dock, Milk Thistle, Pigweed, and Smartweed
(For this reason a 'wild corner' or bird seed patch is a good option for attracting these birds.)
In addition to plants that bear seeds and/or fruit, you can also provide cover with deciduous trees. An added draw for grosbeaks is a source of water. A bird bath, fountain, garden pond or natural stream is an added bonus for grosbeaks and many other birds. If you already have a swamp, stream or other natural water source with a mixture of trees and shrubs surrounding it nearby, you already have a prime Black-headed Grosbeak habitat. Since Black-headed Grosbeaks nest in areas such as these, you may even have the privilege of hosting a nesting pair !
The Black-headed Grosbeak's scientific name is Pheucticus melanocephalus ~ 'melanocephalus', meaning "black headed" and "Pheucticus" comes from a Greed word meaning "shy" or another Greek word meaning "painted with cosmetics" (most likely referring to its flamboyant white markings, especially on the wings) ~ all of which are fitting names for this beautiful grosbeak.
By, Jessi Wasell