I don’t think I’m imagining things to declare that I’ve observed more rose-breasted grosbeaks at my feeders this season than I’ve ever seen in the past.
In fact there have been two influxes of two species of wild birds this spring -- rose-breasted grosbeaks and Baltimore orioles.
Regarding orioles, I enjoyed a couple dozen males and females for a brief period of time during May, but, as expected, the invasion thinned out to just a few nesting pairs. The large assembly of rose-breasted grosbeaks, on the other hand, have thankfully stuck around and have been a delight to feed and observe all spring and summer long.
Unlike most populations of evening grosbeaks, especially those populations residing in northern latitudes, rose-breasted grosbeaks migrate long distances to Minnesota each spring, not to mention migrating south once again in late summer-early autumn. Wintering in both Central and South America, rose-breasted grosbeaks spend only part of their lives in Minnesota and further north.
An interesting colloquial name for the rose-breasted grosbeak not heard here in Minnesota, is “cut-throat.” Indeed, the rose-colored, pinkish patch, sometimes called a “bib,” located on the breast of male rose-breasted grosbeaks gives the bird a graphic appearance of just that, a cut throat. Females, on the contrary, do not exhibit the rose-breast as the species’ name reveals, rather, female rose-breasted grosbeaks look altogether different.
For many people upon seeing a female rose-breasted grosbeak for the first time often think that they’re observing a different species entirely. As is the case with most songbirds and other species of birds, females tend to be drab in coloration. Yet, female rose-breasted grosbeaks seem to differentiate themselves from this standard by taking on not only different colors, but vastly different plumage patterns from the male of the species. Female rose-breasted grosbeaks look somewhat like overgrown sparrows or purple finches.
While both sexes sing, it’s the male that sings the most. The song of the territorial male rose-breasted grosbeak is beautifully delivered and heartily sung from mid to high canopy perches. Described as “robin-like,” the continuous and melodious whistled song is often mistakenly believed to be that of a robin’s. Calls are loud and sharp “peeks” that once heard are easily remembered and associated with none other than that belonging to the rose-breasted grosbeak.
Soon after the springtime arrival of rose-breasted grosbeaks occurs here in the Northland, courtship commences, followed by nest building, incubating, and offspring rearing, which both sexes share in the duties of. One to two broods are raised each season and, in all, from nest construction to fledgling, takes about 1.5 months.
One of the first neotropical migrants, if not the first, to leave their northern breeding and nesting grounds for their wintering areas, I’ve always felt that the late summer departure of rose-breasted grosbeaks to be rather abrupt. It’s almost as if they’re here one day, and completely gone the next.
Cornell’s All About Birds website in citing information from the North American Breeding Bird Survey, claims that the population of rose-breasted grosbeaks has declined from 1966 to 2015, “. . . resulting in a cumulative loss of about 35 percent.” As is the case with wildlife population declines in general, and for this species as well, factors affecting population are not always clearly understood, although habitat loss and degradation tends to be the leading causes for decreasing abundance for all species of wildlife.
If you’re lucky enough to have a family or two of rose-breasted grosbeaks routinely visiting your backyard bird feeding stations, you’re probably noticing newly fledged and hungry youngsters shadowing their parents while relentlessly begging them for food. Though accommodating for now, the adults will soon tire of the hounding and the young grosbeaks will be on their own.
Attractive, musical, and a welcoming sight every season, rose-breasted grosbeaks are one of many species of migrant wild birds that call Minnesota home each spring and summer as we get out and enjoy the great outdoors.