Here’s a bird I am fortunate to have residing in my backyard every summer. They migrate here from Mexico every spring, mate up and breed, raise their chicks.
The new chicks right now are in their first few weeks of life. They flutter helplessly on tree limbs, whistling an insistent mewing cry (“feed me feed me feed me”) until the parent brings food.
Black-headed grosbeaks prefer mixed forest habitat and oak woodlands for their summer breeding. They can also be found in streamside corridors, pine woodlands, and suburban green areas.
They are not picky eaters or nesters, a fact that has stabilized their population.
More grosbeak info here.
In Mexico, during the winter months, they live in similar habitats in tropical and subtropical lowlands. There they eat resident monarch butterflies, an insect that most birds and mammals strictly avoid due to toxicity. They eat the butterflies in eight day cycles to sufficiently eliminate toxins.
Pheucticus melanocephalus are classified in the same family as the northern cardinal, both songbirds of a similar size with seed-eating bills.
Named for their large beak, they crack seeds quickly and efficiently. They also use that massive beak to crush and eat beetles and snails.
7.5 inches long (19cm), they have an extensive diet: spiders and other insects, berries, grains, cultivated fruit in orchards, and wild fruit too.
They also voraciously eat sunflower seeds at feeders. Now that the juveniles are eating, we fill a five pound feeder every other day!
They are animated and elegant, and conspicuous in their colorful plumage…and there’s more: their sound.
Both genders fill the air with a sublime fluty warble. Sometimes it is difficult to differentiate their song from a robin’s, until you hear their characteristic sharp “spik” contact call. Long spring serenades thrill all of us, not just the intended.
Click here to hear adult’s song.
Soon they will be on their way and, if all goes right, they will return again next year. In early April we will buy sunflower seeds, a pricier feeder endeavor, and keep special feeders filled for our grosbeak guests.
Then we have four months of grosbeak glory…and at least twice as many of the species will fly back to Mexico.
Photo credit: Athena Alexander