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A rose-breasted grosbeak. Freeuse photo

Exploring Nature: Grosbeaks

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Grosbeaks are members of the emberizine family of birds, which doesn’t tell me much, but the name grosbeak speaks volumes – their beak is stout, conical and large.

A friend recently emailed me a photo of a rose-breasted grosbeak which showed up at her abode. It was a male with a red necktie of color down his throat, standing out against his snowwhite breast and belly. His head was dark black and his bone-colored beak was suitably massive.

Grosbeaks spend their winters in Mexico and Central America and they journey up as far as Canada in late summer. We generally only see them in transit and they do not breed in our area.

They prefer open woodlands and thickets along lakes and streams and they feed on seeds, fruits, buds and insects. My friend’s home is close to woods and not far from a flowing creek, so it offers perfect grosbeak habitat.

Females often feed higher in the trees than the males and are more adept at hovering to pick off insects from the leaves. Males assist with nest building and even help with egg incubation. They’ll also sing loudly while sitting on the nest, making no attempt to keep that site hidden.

Such boldness may be one reason cowbirds home in on grosbeaks and often leave their eggs for grosbeaks to hatch. It might also help explain why the grosbeak is often captured and sold as a caged bird in tropical America, where they are prized for their bright colors and melodious singing.

If you see a grosbeak this fall, consider yourself lucky. It isn’t in our area for long and it is one beautiful bird.

San Marcos Record

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