Rose-breasted Grosbeak Male In Our Backyard
I was over the moon one day when I looked out the kitchen window and saw this Rose-breasted Grosbeak hanging off the suet feeder in my backyard, in Toronto, Ontario. All that I could discern was the striking white patches on the jet black back and wings.
Over the years, I have had male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks drop by my property for a few moments on a couple of different occasions…back in the days when my camera equipment was less capable of capturing a good photograph and when my priorities lay elsewhere, like tending to the needs of my three children instead of our feathered friends. Having said that, we have always fed the birds and delighted in any appearance of those birds not routinely seen at the feeders.
And so it can be said, that this spring day, it was hard to take my eyes off the scene in my backyard, and for many days, our meals were delayed, chores neglected, and cameras almost constantly in hand. When once, I saw the Grosbeak fly out of view, I couldn’t understand how it reappeared in a different part of the yard without my seeing its return. That is when I realized that there were two males showing off their attractive plumage for my benefit.
What makes a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in breeding plumage so attractive is the triangular-shaped, carmine red patch down the centre of the white breast. If I could have captured either of the birds in flight, it might have been possible to see that the wings are lined with the same rosy-red colour.
The Grosbeaks busied themselves for several days foraging for food in my gardens and at the bird feeders. They seemed quite confident so it was possible for me to open my window wide (I refuse to put the screens in until after the spring migration of birds) and photograph to my heart’s content.
I kept remarking to Bob that I wondered if any females would show up, so we kept a keen eye on the trees, and finally, one evening, a female Grosbeak made a brief show beneath one of the feeding stations. It wasn’t until the next morning, though, that she really made her presence known, and she hung around for several days.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in an area from northeastern British Columbia eastward across southern Canada to Nova Scotia, as well as into the northern-eastern states of the United States, but we have never had these birds visit our yard except for brief stints during spring migration. Their preference is for deciduous and mixed woodlands with large trees in the proximity of tall shrubbery.
When viewed from behind, it is possible to admire the sharply-defined black and white plumage and flashing white-spotted wings of this male Rose-breasted Grosbeak. He was a picture of beauty perched at the edge of the water preparing to have a drink. In studies carried out by researchers, it seems that the white rump and flanks serve to stimulate aggression by fellow Grosbeaks.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are large finches that, at one time, earned the name “cut-throat” because of the resemblance of the vivid red triangle of feathers to blood-stained white plumage. Their scientific name, however, is thought to have come from early French explorers who, when describing the finches, referred to the birds’ large beaks, hence calling them gros bec, which means large beak. The name and trait are shared by a few other similar songbirds.
These chunky songbirds of the cardinal family put their stout beaks to good use using them to crush seeds, nip buds, crack hard-shelled insects and squash fruit. I was pleased to see the pair of males gathering up insects and weed seeds in my garden. Maybe my flowering plants and shrubs will fare just a little bit better this season because of the Grosbeaks’ help in eliminating pests and problem plants. They certainly did not neglect the sunflower seeds at the bird feeder, though. We were happy to oblige.