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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Blue Grosbeak

Passerina caerulea ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

A large, vibrantly blue bunting with an enormous silver bill and chestnut wingbars, the male Blue Grosbeak sings a rich, warbling song from trees and roadside wires. He and his cinnamon-colored mate often raise two broods of nestlings in a single breeding season. A bird of shrubby habitats, these richly colored birds can be hard to spot unless you hear them singing first. They are widespread but not abundant across the southern U.S., and are expanding their range.

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Keys to identification Help

Finchlike
Finchlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    The Blue Grosbeak is a stocky songbird with a very large, triangular bill that seems to cover the entire front of its face, from throat to forehead.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are deep, rich blue with a tiny black mask in front of the eyes, chestnut wingbars, and a black-and-silver beak. Females are primarily rich cinnamon-brown. The color is richer on the head, paler on the underparts; their tails are bluish. Both sexes have two wingbars; the upper is chestnut and the lower is grayish to buffy. Immature Blue Grosbeaks tend to a rich, dark chestnut brown, with chestnut wingbars.

  • Behavior

    Blue Grosbeaks are unobtrusive despite their bright colors, although in summer males frequently sing their pleasant, rich, warbling songs. Often they sing while perched at high points in the shrubs and small trees of their generally open or shrubby habitats. Listen for their loud, almost metallic chink call. Also watch for this species’ odd habit of twitching its tail sideways.

  • Habitat

    Blue Grosbeaks are characteristic species of old fields beginning to grow back into woodland. They breed in areas covered in a mix of grass, forbs, and shrubs, with usually a few taller trees. In more-arid areas, they often use the shrubby growth along watercourses.

Range Map Help

Blue Grosbeak Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Blue Grosbeak

    Adult male
  • Female

    Blue Grosbeak

    Female
    • Mostly tan body
    • Solid, unstreaked breast
    • Rusty wing bars
    • Very large gray bill
    • Some pale blue on rump and tail
    • © Charlie Hickey, Whitehall Landing , Delaware, May 2010
  • Adult male

    Blue Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Blue brightest on rump and crown
    • Tail and wings darker gray
    • Prominent rusty bars on wing
    • © Roger Garber, Englewood MetroPark, Vendalia, Ohio, July 2010
  • Female

    Blue Grosbeak

    Female

Similar Species

Similar Species

Indigo Buntings are smaller than Blue Grosbeaks, with smaller, more rounded heads and much smaller bills. They lack the Blue Grosbeak’s obvious wingbars. Lazuli Buntings are also smaller-headed, smaller-billed birds than Blue Grosbeaks. Female Lazuli Buntings have whitish instead of brown wingbars, and their chests are strongly orange-tinged. Though they’re not closely related, Brown-headed Cowbirds are amazingly similar in size and shape to Blue Grosbeaks (though cowbirds have smaller bills), and male grosbeaks in bad light can look all black. With a good look, the male cowbird’s brown head and glossy black body is distinctive. Female Brown-headed Cowbirds lack wingbars and are paler and grayish below, with vague darker streaking.

Backyard Tips

Blue Grosbeaks may be attracted to grains and seeds at feeders in shrubby backyards.

Find This Bird

Though never common during summer and despite its generally retiring habits, the openness of Blue Grosbeak habitat and the males’ propensity for singing from high, exposed perches should enable you to locate it in most of its range. Learning and listening for their burry, warbling songs makes locating Blue Grosbeaks much easier. Be sure to continue to check likely looking shrubby or old-field habitat, even if they seem to be absent in early summer—many individuals arrive quite late, even deep into July, when Blue Grosbeak can be one of the few singing birds in such habitats.