Rose-breasted grosbeaks are chubby birds with thick, heavy bills that are a pale pinkish ivory. Adult male upperparts are black, with white wing patches and rump. Underparts are white, with a black throat and rosy-red breast. In flight, males show dark wings with white patches, with rosy red wing linings. In winter, a male grosbeak's feathers are mottled brown and white, with only a hint of rose. The female is brown above, with a broad white eyebrow and wing bars, and is heavily streaked below, with a yellow wing lining that is visible in flight. The song is a beautiful, rich, slurred series of whistles, much like a robin's carol, although much faster.
Similar species: Adult males are easily identified. The brown-toned females and young males look a lot like female black-headed grosbeaks, but those are only rarely seen in Missouri, during spring and fall. Black-headed grosbeaks are less streaked below, and the upper bill is darker than the lower part. Compared to our many brown, streak-breasted sparrows and finches, female and immature rose-breasted grosbeaks are larger, and their bills heavier.
Length: 8 inches (tip of bill to tip of tail).
Habitat and Conservation
Rose-breasted grosbeaks are usually seen foraging in woodland edges, hedgerows, and yards with trees and shrubs. Summer territory includes open woodlands of the eastern U.S. and central Canada.
The heavy bills ("grosbeaks") of this species are used for gathering and eating insects, flower and leaf buds, seeds, fruits, and berries. If you are interested in attracting rose-breasted grosbeaks to your yard, consider planting native fruit-bearing plants such as eastern red cedar, black cherry, blackberry, serviceberry, elderberry, or flowering dogwood. They also visit backyard birdfeeders for sunflower and safflower seeds, which is one reason to keep feeding the birds all summer!
The rose-breasted grosbeak is a common migrant statewide; as a summer resident, common in northern Missouri, and rare (casual) in the Ozark Region. As a winter resident, accidental. As with many North American birds, populations have declined in the last half-century, apparently mainly due to changes and loss of habitat.
Rose-breasted grosbeaks appear in our state in mid-April and leave in mid-October. Nests are placed in a fork or crotch of a tree sapling, in a shrubby area. Nests are loose, even flimsy cups of twigs, sticks, dried grasses, weeds, and leaves, lined with hair and other fine materials. A clutch comprises 1–5 eggs, which are incubated 11–14 days. After hatching, the young remain in the nest another 9–12 days. There can be 1 or 2 broods a year. In winter, they live in forest borders and scattered trees from Mexico to Colombia and Venezuela.
The availability of soft mast (fleshy fruits) may be critical for the survival of southbound fruit-eating migrant birds. Although humans have altered many habitats to the detriment of wildlife, we can also help by allowing fruit-bearing trees and shrubs to remain and by planting them when we can.
The vulnerable eggs and young of rose-breasted grosbeaks are preyed upon by squirrels, blue jays, and grackles. The grosbeaks try to prevent this by "mobbing," flying at and noisily attacking, the intruders when they get near the nest.