The monogamous birds like to rub bills during courtship
Living in Balance
By Jenipher Appleton
The rose-breasted grosbeak Pheucticus ludovicianus is one of the most stunning birds you will see in southwestern Ontario. They seem to be even more plentiful in our back yard than they were last year at this time.
Growing up with a naturalist father, I was expected to learn something about wildlife every day. I had frequently been informed (by my father) that the evening grosbeak was a member of the finch family. Consequently, I had always believed that the same was the case for all species of grosbeaks. It seemed like a logical assumption. Wrong again. The evening and rose-breasted grosbeaks are not in the same family at all. The similarity between the two is simply the size of their beaks, which are ‘gros,’ the French word for big.
The evening grosbeak (a beautiful yellow, black and white bird) is a member of the family FRINGILLIDAE, along with other finches like the pine grosbeak, goldfinch, redpoll, purple finch, house finch, crossbills and siskins. The rose-breasted grosbeak, on the other hand, is a member of the family CARDINALIDAE, along with the blue grosbeak, buntings, and cardinals.
Features and Habits
The male rose-breasted grosbeak has a black head, back, and wings with a white breast and an obvious rosy red triangular patch under the throat. The female has brownish upper parts with dark streaking, whitish to buff under parts, and a white eyebrow. Both genders have a large chunky beak, ideal for cracking seeds. They love black oil sunflower seeds. In our back yard, they favour the open tray feeder and the tube-style feeder. They will also eat insects, caterpillars, tree flowers, fruits and berries. We are currently observing ten or more rose-breasted grosbeaks on our feeders at any given time throughout the day. The young males are in their immature phase, with rusty streaked under-parts and the classic red triangular patch not yet developed.
May and early June is their nesting time when they are very busy tending young and eating enough to keep up their energy. They are monogamous and fairly solitary. Male and female rub bills to display affection during courtship. They raise one to two broods per year. If you hear a cheery song, similar to that of the robin only mellower, it is likely the rose-breasted grosbeak. It is not too late to start a feeder to attract them.