Notes from the Feeder: Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I’ve been struggling to get over a cold for over a week now, and it had left me feeling more than a little disappointed and sorry for myself this past weekend. But the silver lining to being stuck inside the apartment all week was catching my first sighting of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak at our fire-escape bird feeder…

When I saw a flash of black, white and red feathers flutter past the window this weekend, I first assumed it was a woodpecker, but on second glance I saw that this brightly-colored bird was something altogether different. I had never seen any bird like this little fellow – he was a rotund little bird, about the size of a robin, with crisp black and white feathers and a little red triangle on his chest, almost as though he was wearing a red kerchief around his neck. A quick consultation with my Merlin Bird ID app and I immediately realized why this was a bird I hadn’t seen before.

The reason being that the rose-breasted grosbeak is a migratory bird, wintering in the tropics and South America. Now that spring has officially sprung, the grosbeak has flown back up to the northeast coast to breed, thus the sudden appearance at our feeder. I also recently changed up the birdseed in our feeder to sunflower and safflower seeds only – two varieties that don’t seem to attract squirrels, but grosbeaks and house finches simply love.

The rose-breasted grosbeak has some interesting mating behaviors. According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, males will rebuff an interested female for a day or two before accepting her as a mate. Once mated, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks appear to be monogamous. They share the duty of building their nest, which takes about 4–9 days, with the pair working from dawn to dusk. They also share the task of incubation, brooding, and feeding duties at their nest.

I can’t tell you how excited this new sighting made me. Again, perhaps it’s just due to the boredom that comes with being stuck inside fighting a cold that just won’t relent, but I suspect it had more to do with the fact that this was my first encounter with a migratory bird this spring.

It’s amazing to think that this little guy traveled so far and that he found his way from the tropics all the way to my humble bird feeder.

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