The Black Headed Grosbeak of the Pacific Northwest
The Black Headed Grosbeak can be viewed visiting feeders and bird baths here on the coast on a regular basis. Black headed grosbeaks are medium sized songbirds with short, thick bills.
The male with its black head, rusty orange breast, nape, and rump, black back, white patches on its wings which are yellow underneath and the outer tail feathers that are white is easy to identify.
The female on the other hand is drab and streaked, but she also has yellow under wing linings. She has a dark crown, a white line above the eye and below the cheek, and two white wing bars on each wing. First year males are streaked like females but have more orangey underparts.
They nest in open habitat in deciduous woodlands near water, such as river bottoms, lake shores, and swampy places with a combination of trees and shrubs. The female lays up to 4 greenish eggs in a loosely built stick nest lined with rootlets, grasses, and leaves. The nest is placed among the dense foliage of an outer tree limb. Watching them go about the task of caring for their young is fascinating. Both male and female will take on this job.
Black Headed Grosbeaks have very large bills that are perfect for cracking open seeds, they can also use these bills to crack open beetles, bugs or snails and indeed do. During the breeding season, their feed consists of up to 60% insects.
Black headed grosbeaks breed from Vancouver Island Canada east to western North Dakota and Nebraska and south to mountains of Mexico. They have a rich voice not unlike a robin but a bit more harsh.