Black-headed grosbeak.
wphoto by Douglas Beall
Black-headed grosbeak. wphoto by Douglas Beall
In many areas of western North America, the melodious song of the black-headed grosbeak (Pheucticus melanocephalus) is a familiar harbinger of spring. They appear here in May with both male and female singing from tops of trees. Their song is often confused with the robins’ morning symphony.

They are feeding heavily now in preparation for their long migration to Central America and Baja.

Their nests are so thinly constructed that eggs can be seen through the bottom. Thin nests may provide ventilation and help keep them cool. Two to five pale-bluish to reddish-brown eggs will hatch in 12 to 14 days and the chicks will leave the nest in 10 to 14 days. They consume varied insects and some seeds including black sunflower seeds from feeders.

They hybridize with their eastern counterpart, the rose-breasted grosbeak, along their mutual boundary. This situation arose when the treeless prairies, which once formed a barrier between the two, became dotted with towns and homesteads, providing suitable habitats for both species.

The black-headed grosbeak is one of the few birds that can safely eat the poisonous monarch butterfly.

A group of grosbeaks are collectively known as a “gross” of grosbeaks.

To view more images of the black-headed grosbeak, visit http://abirdsingsbecauseithasasong.com/recent-journeys/.