Rose Breasted Grosbeak Care Sheet

Scientific Facts

Common Name:Rose Breasted Grosbeak
Scientific Name:Pheucticus Ludovicianusis
Length:About 8 inches
Life Span:About 13 years
Clutch Size:3 to 5 eggs
Habitat:Mixed Woodlands, Deciduous Forests
Country of Origin:United States, Central, and Southern America

Physical Description

Image Source

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are songbirds that belong to the family of cardinals. These birds are known to burst with white, black, and rose-red colors. The male grosbeaks look like an exclamation mark at a bird feeder, or when viewed from a binocular. Females and young ones, on the other hand, are streaked with brown and white color, with an enormous bill and boldface pattern.

It is very easy to distinguish the gender of these birds as the male and female specimens are like two different types of birds. Both are around eight inches in height, with heavy bills. Males feature a vibrant black and white plumage and a bright red spot on their chest. Females, on the other hand, have more subdued hues of brown and white. Non-breeding males are also brown and white, with a hint of rose color on their chest.

Rose breasted grosbeaks are sexually dimorphic in terms of plumage patterns. These birds are about 8 inches in length, with a weight of 39 to 49 grams. Non-breeding and immature males have similar plumage characteristics with females, such as having the buffy white superciliary stripe, along with some streaked and brown plumage.

The females among these birds are closely identical to the females of the related black-headed grosbeaks, even though they have the tendency to have more streaks on their breasts. Even though the males differ in terms of pattern, hybridization still occurs in areas where their ranges overall in the central part of the United States, as well as in Southern Canada. They have similar songs and are ecologically similar.


In the wild, Rose breasted grosbeak can live at a maximum of 13 years. There are also records of the longest living rose breasted grosbeak living for 24 years in captivity.


Rose breasted grosbeaks breed in the northern areas of North America, ranging from the British Columbia locations in the west, spreading to the Atlantic coast of Canada in the east. They are also spread from New Jersey towards the south, to the Appalachian Mountains via South Carolina, then West to Eastern Kansas, the Dakotas, and Nebraska. Their winter distribution is located in the Greater Antilles, coastal Mexico, and the entire region of Central America, along with the Northern South America and down to the east of Guyana and Peru.

Interesting Facts

Here are some interesting facts about the Rose Breasted Grosbeak:

  • These birds eat insects, along with different types of fruits and seeds. During winter, berries are considered as their predominant source of food.
  • These birds are known to feature huge, cone-shaped beak, which is usually pink-colored.
  • Rose Breasted Grosbeaks produce warbled and melodic songs that sound like the songs of American Robin with shorter phrases.
  • They usually migrate going to the south at the start of autumn, traveling usually at night in flocks of about 50 birds.
  • They are highly territorial, especially during the breeding season. Both the male and female grosbeaks defend their territory aggressively against intruders.
  • The female grosbeak selects the male who sings the most beautiful during the mating season. The male will then accept her after a day or two. The bond between these two last for a lifetime, as these birds are considered monogamous.
  • Both males and females build a nest in trees together. Their nest is often made of twigs, is cup-shaped, and also made of straws and decaying leaves. The nest is porous, while the eggs can be easily seen from below.
  • Experiments involving live birds show that white markings and ramps on the lateral sides of their body trigger their aggressive behavior, especially among male grosbeaks during the breeding season. The red marks on the breasts do not trigger such aggression.
  • Female grosbeaks lay 1 to 5 bluish or pale green eggs. Both parents get involved in the egg incubation process during a period of 11 to 14 days.
  • Black-headed grosbeaks and rose-breasted grosbeaks may interbreed in locations where members of their own species are not found. The offspring produced may inherit the features and characteristics of either one of the parents of both of them.
  • The hatchlings are observed as helpless at birth and highly dependent on their parents until they reach 30 days. After 9 to 12 days from hatching, they leave the nest.
  • These birds are known to survive even over 12 years in the wild.
  • Common grackles, blue jay, and grey and red squirrels are known to feed on young chicks and eggs. Adult grosbeaks are often targeted by different species of hawks.


This species is under the Cardinal (Cardinalidae) family. It is further subdivided into the genus Pheucticus. Just like the Northern Cardinal subspecies, this bird is a passerine, which means that they are perching birds or songbirds. Even though it is quite rare to see these birds as compared with Cardinals, they are not considered as threatened species and are quite abundant throughout its habitat and range.

The designation as a “grosbeak” may be confusing at times. Some people may mistake this bird as a Finch, belonging to the Fringillidae family. However, in reality, this grosbeak, along with its relatives, does not belong to this family.

There are a number of grosbeaks belonging to the Cardinal family all throughout the region of North America, with each one of them occupying their own niche in a specific geographical area.

Related Species

As a member of the Cardinal family, Rose breasted grosbeaks are kin to the more popular Northern Cardinal, as well as with other species, such as the Desert Cardinal (Pyrrhuloxia) of Southern Texas and Mexico, the Dickcissel of Cental United States, as well as the different species of Bunting spread throughout North America.

The black headed grosbeak is a relative species that is commonly found in the Western parts of the United States, especially during the breeding months, as well as during overwinters in Mexico. Due to the overlapping regions in certain areas of the Great Plains, it is possible to observe interbreeding between Rose breasted and black headed grosbeaks.

Another subspecies is the Blue grosbeak. This bird is beautiful and deep-blue in color, and distinct from its relative Indigo Bunting, with its heavy bill as the main difference. They are pretty common among the South Central and Southeastern regions of the United States. They are also known to share an overwintering area with Rose breasted grosbeaks across regions in Mexico and the rest of Central America.

Habitat and Range

Grosbeaks are commonly found in North America, especially during the breeding season, as well as in South Africa and certain parts of Europe in wintertime. They live in mixed and deciduous forests, and in regions near marshes and streams. They are also found in parks, orchards, and gardens near human habitation.

Mixed woodlands and deciduous forests are highly favored as habitats by Rose breasted grosbeaks during the summer months. They also thrive pretty well in rural areas and those with sporadic human habitation. Even though backyard feeders are found to be helpful, but because of the diversity of the diet of this bird, they will do fine despite any help and influence from humans.

As these birds are considered as migratory, the calories provided by the food from bird feeders help in building energy reserves and are useful for the long flight down south. They are also useful in providing an easy source of sustenance throughout the journey.

Sexual Dimorphism

The visible difference between male and female grosbeaks is evident. Unlike the females that are drab-colored, males have a patterned black and white color, with a bold rose-colored chest, thus the name. Male birds are known for their jet-black heads with a heavy bill. The male juveniles look similar to the females, with a rosy patch on their buff-colored chest.


The thick bill of a grosbeak is designed for cracking open big seeds that are otherwise difficult to open by other birds with smaller bills. Also, just like other female birds, female grosbeaks are often dull in color. This is effective in helping them to avoid being easily noticed by predators as they are sitting on their nest. On the other hand, the bright colors of male grosbeaks help them in attracting their female mates.

Feeding and Diet

These birds are insect-eating. Still, they eat wild fruits or seeds. Among the insects that they eat include bees, beetles, sawflies, ants, moths, and butterflies. The fruits that they prefer include blackberries, elderberries, mulberries, raspberries, and juneberries. They also love seeds such as pigweed, smartweed, sunflower seeds, milkweed, foxtail, and garden peas. They also love oats, wheat, and tree flowers. At times, they snag their food out of dense branches or foliage. They also love flying out to look for insects.

As these birds are omnivores, their food habits may change from one season to another. During the breeding season, for example, they would consume approximately 52% and 48% fruits and seeds. During migration and in the winter months, they usually feed on flowers, leaves, and fruits.

Nesting and Breeding

In their summer habitat, these birds build a nest off the ground. These nests are primarily made out of twigs. Among the most common sites for nesting include woodlands with a field or stream nearby, with a fair space between human habitation and their nest. They also usually prefer swampy areas than dry forests. The nest may be built several feet off the ground, up to an elevation of fifty feet.

Breeding males are observed to establish a territory first, usually going back to the same area every year. Afterward, they attract a female using their bright redbreasts, and the striking contrast of black and white. The pair stays together during the duration of the season. Males usually help in the construction of the nest and do their part during the incubation of the eggs. This gives the female time to focus on laying eggs.

The female will then lay a clutch of three to five eggs. These eggs hatch in around 13 days. After the young birds are born, they are cared for by both parents. The nestlings are described as altricial. This means that when they are born, they are blind, immobile, and helpless. The babies are fed mostly with insect diets and are usually able to make their first sound after about 6 days from hatching.

The fledglings grow up gradually after being fed by the parents. Within a period of two weeks, the chicks will start leaving their nest. Just like other birds, they usually follow their parents around for a little while. When they start to get the hang of things, they will then leave their nest. The male juveniles seem to learn their songs from their father and are capable of singing when they are about a month old.


Even though rose breasted grosbeaks are considered monogamous, there has been no research done regarding extra-pair copulation. The partnership usually starts in spring on the breeding grounds, when the females start to approach singing, territorial males.

The males use different types of courtship displays in front of the females. This can include the wing-fluff, rapid warble fight, both of which are usually accompanied by a warbling song. The fight usually involves the male bird slowly flying with his tail spread wide, together with minimum movements of the wings. The wing-fluff movement involves the male holding his wings out to the side, with tail spread, while moving his head and body from side to side while hopping on a branch.

Overwintering and Migration

In the breeding months of summer, the Rose breasted grosbeaks are found to spend their time in the forests and scrublands of North America, with a range spread throughout most of the Northeastern part of the region. The male birds will arrive in mid-spring and are followed thereafter, a few weeks later, by the females.

These birds stay in the Northern range for a short period of time, usually about three months in certain areas, and even as long as five in the Southern range for breeding. Sometime in September, it is time for these birds to fly South, ready for the winter season, on a trip that will allow them to avoid extremely cold weather. They are smart birds, designed with instincts that give protection to themselves.

During the overwintering period, these birds settle into the tropical areas of the Caribbean, Southern Mexico, as well as South and Central America. In winter, they thrive better in forests, even flocking in loose groups. During this period, they will eat nectars and fruits as a primary food source, aside from the usual insects and seeds. Despite being territorial in their breeding territory, they are more tolerant of each other within their winter grounds.

These birds usually return to their same breeding area every year. There have been no published details regarding the size of their home range, though there is evidence that males spread farther from their natal sites compared with females.

Migrating and Traveling

This species is an enigmatic, active, and interesting traveler. Similar to the way Robins migrate, Rose breasted grosbeaks are designed with instinct and common sense to leave with the summer. To avoid the cold season, they tend to follow the warm weather that leads them down South.

The migration of these birds may be unnoticeable with some Northerners. They are harbingers of spring, traveling from a tropical region. When they return from their winter ground, it is often a signal of warm weather that follows them. While a lot of people may not know their names, despite being familiar with their appearance, they are viewed as the best-traveled and prettiest songbirds in all of North America.

These birds usually spend most of their summer searching for food, particularly insects. If you keep an eye on the well, you can even observe them lining up for your bird feeders. As a matter of fact, when you make our backyard bird-friendly, you will see them around often.

During their time of migration, as well as in the winter months, these grosbeaks are found either individually or may stay in pairs, or at times moving in scattered flocks. They can even be mixed with other species. Their wintering and breeding range never overlap. They usually migrate at nighttime.

It is not difficult to miss the arrival of these birds in the spring, as the males introduce their arrival with bright and cheerful songs all throughout the day as they establish their boundaries and territories. Mature males usually arrive first, usually around three days ahead of the females. Males that are a year old are usually the last to arrive.

There is also a notable arrival older in this group. The “bright” birds come first, while the dullest (typically the juveniles) arrive last. It has been believed that those dull birds are those that experience less extensive molting, perhaps because of poor nutrition on the wintering grounds. It has also been observed that for the last 20 years, this species arrives earlier each spring. This could be a result of climate change and the presence of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Call and Sound

The Rose breasted grosbeaks feature two types of vocals. The first is a warble, which is described frequently as more musical and attractive than the more familiar song of a Robin. Such a warble is sung by males both during flight and from perches as they establish their breeding territory, as well as in an attempt to attract a mate. The second vocalization can be likened to the sound of a tennis shoe that squeaks on a gym floor. This chink is often used in different situations, such as when responding to mating calls.

The most common call of rose breasted grosbeak is a metallic chink. They also make calls that sound like “eek-eek” and “weep” in social situations. They have very melodious songs, similar to that of American Robins, though the notes are relatively faster. Male and female grosbeaks are beautiful songbirds, though the females usually sing a softer and shorter call than the males. When nesting, they are also heard singing together.

Males incubate their eggs a third of the day. When they exchange places, they also sing. As a matter of fact, males keep on singing even when they are incubating the eggs. They love singing under the moonlight, preferring to sing softly. The males also sing in order to attract females, as well as to establish their territories. When a female grosbeak approaches a male, he is usually snub at first but eventually accepted her as a mate after just a couple of days.


These birds are known to showcase some strange behaviors. For one, unlike other territorial birds, a breeding pair of grosbeaks usually tolerate a male that intrudes their territory, provided that the migrant stays silent. If the male that intrudes starts to sing or chirp, the male territory owner would usually ward it off. This is done by flicking its wings, spreading its tail, raising its crown feathers, and usually chasing the intruder together with its mate, driving the intruder away from their realm. The female bird is usually seen to show a similar gesture, driving off other females that try to approach her mate.

The male bird sings primarily and emits calls in order to mark their territories. Their song also serves as a mating call so as to attract females. Once the female grosbeak approaches, the male would continue rebuffing it for about two days before finally accepting it as a mate. Once the mating is done, the pair usually acts monogamous.

When an uninvited predator approaches the nest, these birds usually mob near the best noisily in order to display aggressive behavior. When these birds are startled or surprised, they usually freeze. As they fly, they usually show an undulating flight pattern. These birds, however, are also seen to hop on the ground.

How to Attract Rose Breasted Grosbeaks to Your Backyard

These birds are mainly insect eaters. As such, they usually find their food while hunting in branches and trees. They love huge-bodied insects like caterpillars, beetles, grubs, and gypsy moths, though their heavy beaks are designed for munching foods that are tougher than that of an average bug. They also eat a wide variety of seeds that are available throughout their natural range and are happy to check out what you have prepared in your feeder.

Rose breasted grosbeaks may tend to be shy but consistent visitors to your bird feeder, especially during the summer months. It is then recommended to serve high-quality black oil sunflower seeds. Expect to see these birds coming around in your backyard from time to time. As they are small to medium-sized birds, hopper and platform feeders are best, allowing them to have easy access to the seeds.

They can also manage well with tube feeders that are designed for smaller perching birds as needed. These birds are observed to be smart, as they can solve problems when it comes to finding the seeds. Since these birds are timid, you may want to post several feeders to avoid congestion. The presence of these feeders also encourages them to check out the seeds. Once they find a good source of seeds, they will come back again and again. Just like other species of songbirds, the Rose breasted grosbeak will also use water features, like a birdbath.


Most of the predation usually happens on the eggs and hatchlings. They are mostly predated by grey squirrels, blue jays, red squirrels, as well as common grackles. However, adult grosbeaks also fall prey to birds of prey such as the sharp-shinned hawk and the Cooper’s hawk.

Nestlings and eggs may also be eaten by opportunistic predators. Cowbirds also parasitize the nests of these birds, especially those that are placed at lower locations in more open locations. Nest parasitism and habitat loss have reduced the population of rose breasted grosbeaks, though they are still abundant in some woodlands, making them a safe species in terms of numbers.

Role in the Ecosystem

Rose breasted grosbeaks may help in dispersing fruit seeds while controlling the populations of insects in the range they live in. Their nests are often parasitized by brown-headed cowbirds, though parent birds do their best in keeping the cowbirds away. Other parasites that may harm them are parasitic flies and lice.

Interactions with Humans

Rose breasted grosbeaks are usually blamed for taking domestic crops, such as corn, peas, wheat, and oats. On the other hand, they are appreciated because of their love song, along with the bright colors of the males. They are also frequent visitors at backyard bird feeders.

Conservation and Threats

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are forest birds that are pretty common, though their populations have gone through a slow decline, especially during the years 1966 to 2015. This has resulted in a cumulative loss of around 35% at that time, as explained by the North American Breeding Bird Survey. It has also been estimated that there is a global breeding population of this bird at 4.1 million. 46% of these spend some part of their year in the United States, 54% in Canada, and 21% breeding in Mexico. This species is rated at 11 out of 20 under the Continental Concern Score.

These grosbeaks nest in saplings, which means that their numbers may drop as forests begin to mature throughout the Eastern part of the United States. Since they sound and look pretty, these birds are usually trapped for sale as cage birds within their wintering range. This, on the other hand, has an unknown impact on their population.

These birds are currently being threatened because of intense deforestation. The good news, however, is that the wild population of these birds is still stable and large. As such, these grosbeaks are not listed under the endangered species of recognized organizations.

Studies and Research

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Despite the presence and the abundance of Rose breasted grosbeaks in its range, the life history of this species has not been studied well. Vital anecdotal behavioral studies involving wild and captive birds were done by Dunham. A number of studies have also been carried out, focusing on the behavior and ecology of Rose breasted grosbeaks, as well as the Black headed grosbeak in hybridization zones.

A number of recent studies in Ontario investigated the reproductive success of grosbeaks, including the effects of forest fragmentation and nest parasitism, though few quantitative studies of breeding behavior have already been published from other locations in its range.

The timing of migration has also been studied by Francis and Cooke, especially relating to plumage variation among yearling males, while Cook also examined the band recoveries and geographic variation in the wing chord. Aside from these studies, little else has been studied and published regarding the routes of migration, habitat use, dispersal, and nutrition during migration, as well as on wintering grounds.

How to Care for Rose Breasted Grosbeaks

It is often best to mimic the natural environment of rose breasted grosbeaks, especially when the ones under your care have been rehabilitated. They usually visit bird feeders in order to eat sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, and even raw peanuts. It is often best to prepare the same food items. As to the type of shelter, it is also best to copy their natural place for living. These birds are most common among forest edges and forests.

Availability – Where to Get One

Rose breasted grosbeaks are not easy to find as pets. However, they can be cared for as part of a rehabilitation arrangement. Individuals who have pets get them from breeders who may have bred out of rehabilitated specimens.


What does Rose Breasted Grosbeak eat?

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks usually visit bird feeders. There they love to eat sunflower seeds, safflower seeds as well as raw peanuts. Even though you are out in the summer range, you may easily observe these birds visiting at springtime, or migration at fall if you keep your bird feeders stocked.

Where does Rose Breasted Grosbeak live?

These birds are common among wooded habitats across most areas in the Eastern and Midwestern North America. They are usually seen singing from the canopy of a deciduous forest. During migration and late in the summer, they usually feed in fruit-bearing trees.

Does Rose Breasted Grosbeak migrate?

These birds are known to migrate long distances. They usually fly from breeding grounds in North America to Central and Northern South America. Most of these birds fly across the Gulf of Mexico in just a single night, even though some still migrate over the land around the Gulf.

Are Rose Breasted Grosbeak considered as rare?

Despite the rarity of their sightings in comparison with similar species, Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are not considered as threatened species. They are also fairly abundant all throughout their range.

How do these Grosbeaks sound like?

These birds give short, penetrating, sharp, chink calls. At times, the sound that they produce is similar to the sound of a sneaker against a gym floor. They also give repeated, harsh squawks when alarmed.

How do you attack these birds?

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks predominantly feed on tree nuts, insects, fruits, berries, and seeds. If you want to attract them to your backyard, you can fill a hopper style seed feeder with their favorite sunflower or black seeds.

Are Rose Breasted Grosbeaks aggressive?

Both male and female grosbeaks defend their territory aggressively against potential intruders. Experiments with different live birds show that white markings and white ramp on the lateral sides of their body trigger their aggressive behavior, especially with male grosbeaks during the breeding season.

What does a young Rose Breasted Grosbeak look like?

The adult grosbeaks burst with white, black, and rose-red colors, while males look like an exclamation mark in your bird feeder. Females, as well as young birds,  are streaked with white and brown, with a bold face pattern and a huge bill.

Where do Rose Breasted Grosbeaks build their nests?

The nests of these grosbeaks are placed typically in the outer branches of a small bush or tree nearby a stream or to an elevated location about 25 feet in height. They are usually well-hidden by branches and leaves. The location may be selected by these birds to make nest cooling easier.

Does Rose Breasted Grosbeak eat oranges?

Orange halves are known to attract grosbeaks. If you do not want these birds to get attracted to your trees, you may want to choose fruit trees rather than ornamentals that have no food value to these birds.

Do grosbeaks eat mealworms?

Many birds have insects as part of their diet, so feeding mealworms to Rose Breasted Grosbeaks are natural. It is also fun watching them as they consume these food items.

Where are Rose Breasted Grosbeaks from?

Rose Breasted Grosbeaks usually breed in Eastern Forests. They can also be found among both conifers and deciduous trees. They are also common in regenerating woodlands, often concentrating along edges of forests, as well as in parks.

Do Rose Breasted Grosbeaks mate for life?

During the mating season, females select the male that sings most beautifully. They then create a bond that lasts a lifetime. They usually select woody or shrubby growth, or bushy woodlands nearby streams as their breeding site.

What seeds do Rose breasted grosbeaks eat?

Grosbeaks usually visit bird feeders, where they love eating sunflower and safflower seeds, including raw peanuts.

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