What strong colored fellows, black, white, and fiery rose-red breasts!
~Henry David Thoreau
They’re back…it will only be for a couple of weeks, but I will enjoy every minute of it. Saturday morning, I saw my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the season. Uncharacteristically, it was a female (males usually arrive first in their travels north in spring). Sunday was the first male, and every day this week there have been several (mostly males) stopping at the platform feeders to snarf sunflower seeds.
The males are certainly one of our most glorious birds, both in song and color. Thoreau believed that Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were our richest singer, perhaps, after the wood thrush. They sound like a melodious robin in song. But, to me, it is their bold, contrasting color pattern that make them such a joy to observe as they pass through on migration every spring. Mature males are vividly marked with black and white, offset by a bright rose-colored breast patch. That patch can be quite variable from one male to the next, and can be used to identify individuals coming to your feeder. Females are brown and streaky with a bold white eye-stripe.
They tend to be wary at the feeders here and have been difficult to photograph except through the living room window, which is how all of these images were taken (except the last one from last spring). They arrive between 6:30 and 7 every morning, eat for a few minutes, then fly off, remaining in the treetops much of the day, with only occasional stops back at the feeders. Their large beak is ideal for quickly making short work of the husks of sunflower seeds (and many other types). A quick video shows how efficient they can be at seed-eating…
They should be around for a few weeks, before continuing on to their breeding grounds further north and in our mountains. They winter in Central and South America, feeding in small flocks on fruit and insects. It always amazes me how they seem to migrate in a wave, with records of first sightings popping up on the internet all over the North Carolina last week. Last spring, I enjoyed some great photo opportunities (see Garden Birds – Rose-breasted Grosbeak) as a few males were feeding at a suet feeder out on the power line, which provided much better lighting conditions than the shade around the house now. Here is a photo from the archives under those conditions.
Many other species are also passing through or setting up territories in my woods right now. In addition to the usual suspects like woodpeckers, doves, chickadees, cardinals, and titmice, these past few mornings we have seen or heard the following: Northern Parula Warbler, Black-throated Blue Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Hooded Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue-headed Vireo, Summer Tanager, Scarlet Tanager, Acadian Flycatcher, Ovenbird, Wood Thrush, and a Veery. It is certainly a great time to get outside and look up.