The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a striking bird with a bold black and white plumage, punctuated by a deep rose triangle in the middle of the white breast. The female's plumage is completely different and resembles a large brown streaky sparrow. The Rose-breasted Grosbeak spends much of its time in the treetops and its song and distinctive metallic, chink, call-note, makes it easier to find. Unlike many songbirds, both the male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are known to sing. This species is completely migratory traveling between the breeding range over most of Canada and the eastern United States, to its wintering grounds stretching from southern Mexico to northern South America. In Tennessee, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak nests only at higher elevations in the mountains in East Tennessee, but is a common spring and fall migrants statewide.
Description: The breeding male has a bright rosy red triangle in the middle of a white breast. The head and back are black, the rump is white, and the wings and tail are black with white patches that are especially obvious in flight. The female resembles a large sparrow. She has a brown streaked back, a streaked white breast, two white wing-bars, and a boldly patterned face with a white stripe over the eye. The under-wing is rose-colored in the male and yellow in the female, and both have a heavy pinkish-white to slate gray conical bill. First-year birds (August-March) resemble the female.
Weight: 1.6 oz
Voice: The song is a melodious series, of robin-like phrases, sometimes described as sounding like an American Robin with singing lessons. The call-note is a sharp, metallic chink, similar to a sneaker squeaking on a basketball court.
- The female Purple Finch resembles the female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but is smaller with a relatively smaller head, a distinct moustache-stripe, a dark bill, and no white in the wings.
Habitat: Breeds in deciduous and mixed woodlands, especially at the edges, second-growth woodlands, orchards, suburban parks and gardens. Winters in a variety of open tropical forests.
Diet: Insects, seeds, fruits, and buds.
Nesting and reproduction: Rose-breasted Grosbeaks start nesting soon after they arrive in spring. Unlike most songbirds, both the male and female sing, including while they are incubating on the nest.
Clutch Size: Usually 4 eggs, with a range of 1 to 5 eggs.
Incubation: The male and female incubate the eggs for 13 to 14 days.
Fledging: Both adults feed the young, which fledge in 9 to 12 days after hatching. They remain dependent on the adults for another 3 weeks.
Nest: The female, and sometimes the male, builds the cup-shaped nest using twigs, rootlets and weed stems, and lines it with finer materials. It is usually placed in a variety of shrubs and small trees, but occasionally high on the branch of a deciduous tree. Nest heights range from 4 feet to 40 feet, with an average 13 feet above the ground.
Status in Tennessee: The Rose-breasted Grosbeak is an uncommon to fairly common summer resident of the East Tennessee mountains. In the rest of the state, it is a fairly common migrant found from mid-April through mid-May, and again from mid-September through mid-October.
Dynamic map of Rose-breasted Grosbeak eBird observations in Tennessee
- Rose-breasted Grosbeak nests are so thinly constructed that it is often possible to see the eggs through the nest from below.
- The male Rose-breasted Grosbeak incubates the eggs during the day, accounting for about 1/3 of the time, while the female incubates over night. Both sexes sing quietly to each other when they change places. The male will sometimes sing his normal song when incubating on the nest.
Obsolete English Names: purple-headed grosbeak
Best places to see in Tennessee: Frozen Head State Natural Area above 3,000 feet, Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Unaka and Roan Mountain.
For more information:
Nicholson, C. P. 1997. Atlas of Breeding Birds of Tennessee. Univ. of Tennessee Press, Knoxville.
Sibley, D. A. 2000. The Sibley Guide to Birds. A. A. Knopf, New York, NY.
Wyatt, V. E., and C. M Francis. 2002. Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus). The Birds of North America, No. 692 (A. Poole and F. Gill, eds.). The Birds of North America, Inc., Philadelphia, PA.