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November 2, 2013 / Leslie

Weekend Birding: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Last week I spotted a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak peeking out at me from behind a tree trunk at the park. I was surprised to see one in the Chicago area this late in October. By now they are usually on their way south to their winter homes. They will return in the spring, about mid-May, and I often see the males at my backyard feeders stopping for a quick, easy meal on their way to their summer nesting grounds.

Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Sexual Dimorphism

The male and the female look very different. In many species of birds the male is often more brightly colored than the female. In some species there are also differences in size. This is called sexual dimorphism and is common in plants and animals. This is one of the many challenges facing new birders when they attempt to identify a bird. Females can be mistaken for large sparrows.

Male Rose-breasted GrosbeakFemale Rose-breasted Grosbeak

The male is very showy and boldly colored with a black head and black upper parts, white underparts and a rosy triangular breast patch. He is almost always singing and you can usually hear him before you see him. He has a beautiful song which is similar to the American Robin but more melodic. If you hear what sounds like a robin that took singing lessons, it might be a Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

In contrast the female resembles a large sparrow with a big white eyebrow and streaky breast. I’ve never had a female stop at my feeders and when I see them in the forest they are elusive and difficult to photograph. Most of the leaves had fallen off this tree so she couldn’t hide in the foliage although that didn’t make her a willing subject. I had about a minute to get a shot before she few away.

Long-distance Migrant

The Grosbeak is a long-distance migratory bird that winters far south in the topics of Mexico, Central and northern South America. Amazingly they fly across the Gulf of Mexico in a single night. In the spring they return to their breeding grounds in the northern US and parts of Canada.

Even if you live outside their range you may find one at a backyard feeder during migration. They enjoy suet or sunflower seeds, a fast-food meal for a bird on a long journey home.


Saturday Snapshot was originated by Alyce at At Home With Books. For the summer it will be hosted by Melinda of West Metro Mommy. Visit her blog to see more great photos or add your own.

© 2013 Under My Apple Tree. All rights reserved.



Leave a Comment
  1. Arti / Nov 2 2013 10:13 am

    That’s interesting … because that’s a bird I see in my backyard even in our deep winter. But maybe not the Rose-breasted kind. I saw the Pine Grosbeak last winter here, amidst deep snow.


    • Leslie / Nov 2 2013 10:32 am

      There are a lot of different kinds of Grosbeaks. I doubt the Rose-breasted variety could survive the winter. We occasionally see Pine Grosbeaks in the Chicago area but they usually stay farther north.


  2. readerbuzz / Nov 2 2013 10:38 am

    That’s a new-to-me bird. Lovely.

    Here’s my Saturday Snapshot.


  3. Beth Hoffman / Nov 2 2013 10:48 am

    When I was a kid living on the farm. I saw many rose-breasted grosbeaks during the summer, but for some reason they don’t visit my feeders here in KY. I really miss them.


  4. Suko / Nov 2 2013 11:34 am

    What exquisite photos! I could see why they’d be mistaken for sparrows. Very lovely “snapshots”, Leslie!


  5. Vicki / Nov 2 2013 3:00 pm

    I love how colorful male birds are.
    Here’s My Saturday Snapshot


  6. laurelrainsnow / Nov 2 2013 5:14 pm

    They are really very different, aren’t they? Thanks for sharing the info and photos….


  7. BermudaOnion / Nov 2 2013 6:33 pm

    Wow, what a difference between the male and the female.


  8. Carol / Nov 4 2013 11:54 am

    Lovely photo. I don’t think I’ve seen one before.


  9. Louise / Nov 8 2013 8:31 pm

    Such an interesting post Leslie. We have birds like that too, and sometimes it’s only seeing a male nearby that helps me recognise the female that I’ve seen.


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