By Sharon Arnold
You think you’re hearing a robin that has had voice training. Following the sound, you discover a stocky, large-billed, black-headed bird with a buffy orange breast and collar and bold white markings on its wings. This male Black-headed Grosbeak sings a richer, throatier song than the American Robin. Females also sing although less frequently and at a lower volume. The call of a Black-headed Grosbeak is a low telltale “eek.”
Like males, females have yellow “armpits” in flight. They have buffy eyebrows and light streaking on buffy breasts. Immature birds look like females. Males may take more than a year to reach adult plumage, and consequently, these males are not as attractive to females and are less successful breeders.
Black-headed Grosbeaks are neotropical migrants. Early arrivals start returning to their preferred breeding habitat by April. Late arrivals have been spotted in mid-June. Look for these birds in pinyon-oak woodlands and conifer-dominated forests. Deciduous tree-dominated canyons and mountain drainages are also regular nesting habit. Black-headed Grosbeaks frequent feeders during breeding season and are fond of black oil sunflower seeds and fruit.
Early nest building and breeding has been observed in April. However, the peak breeding season for Black-headed Grosbeaks is mid-June through mid-July.
Nests are flimsy, cup-shaped structures made of twigs, rootlets, flower heads, and forb stems constructed primarily by the female in tree forks and shrubs. A clutch typically consists of three blue-white or green-white, brown-spotted eggs incubated 12 to 14 days by both sexes. Both parents feed the fledglings that perch silently in dense vegetation. When the young become adept fliers, they beg loudly and relentlessly while following their parents.
Black-headed Grosbeaks forage in tree foliage for pine and other seeds, wild berries, insects and spiders.
The melodious songs of Black-headed Grosbeaks are a sign of spring throughout Arizona’s forests.
Visit Prescott Audubon Society at PrescottAudubon.Org. Contact them at Contact@PrescottAudubon.Org.
Sharon Arnold spies on birds locally and wherever travels take her. She is a strong supporter of efforts to preserve habitat for birds and other wildlife.