Bird of the Month: Blue Grosbeak

audubon-logo-wood-duck-square-medium-300x300By Russ Chappell

Blue Grosbeak males are large, brilliant blue buntings with a thick silver bill and chestnut wing bars, and their mates are cinnamon-colored. Widespread but not abundant across the southern U.S., their range is expanding. In fact, in Carl Tomoff’s checklist, “Birds of Prescott, Arizona,” they’re given the “transient – Summer” classification. Prescott is a breeding area of choice. Later in the year, they migrate to shrubby habitats in Mexico and Central America, and as far south as Panama for winter.

Blue Grosbeaks feed largely on insects but also enjoy invertebrates, grains, and seeds, and hunt for food in the air and on the ground.

Monogamous parents, these birds build cup-shaped nests from natural and man-made debris, low in small trees, brush, vines, and vegetation and often near open areas or roads. The nests are two to three inches across and two inches deep. Parents raise two clutches per season, each consisting of three to five pale blue to white eggs about 1 inch in length. Incubation lasts 12 to 13 days, and nesting lasts 9 to 10 days. Young Blue Grosbeaks are born with gray to brownish down and closed eyes. Prior to feeding insects to their young, the parents remove the prey’ head, wings, and legs.

The openness of their habitat and the male’s habit of singing from high, exposed perches breed success, especially in late summer, as they are often one of the few singing birds remaining in such habitats. The male’s warble lasts two or three seconds, and when threatened Grosbeaks make a loud, metallic “chink” call. If you reside near their habitats you may be rewarded with a visit to your feeder as they search for food.

Sometimes misidentified as Indigo Buntings, the chestnut wing bars and large beaks of Blue Grosbeaks can help confirm their identity. A sign migration is about to begin is when a large number of young and adult birds gathers in fields and grasslands preparing for their voyage to their wintering grounds.

For the latest Blue Grosbeak sighting locations, check eBird via the Prescott Audubon Society website, PrescottAudubon.Org. For in-depth information plus songs and calls, visit the National Audubon Blue Grosbeak webpage via the National Audubon Society’s website, Audubon.Org.

[Author’s Note: Prescott Audubon Society’s “Window On Nature” presentations return in September. However, the summer offers numerous birding opportunities. Visit PrescottAudubon.Org or call 928-778-6502 for the latest information.]

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Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.

Russ Chappell is a member of the Prescott Audubon Society and enjoys photographing and studying the large number of species in our region, and learning to be a better steward of our beautiful natural resources.

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