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Black-headed Grosbeak

Pheucticus melanocephalus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

In western North America, the sweet song of the Black-headed Grosbeak caroling down from the treetops sounds like a tipsy robin welcoming spring. The flashy black, white, and cinnamon males and the less flamboyant females sing from perches in suburbs, desert thickets, and mountain forests. At feeders they effortlessly shuck sunflower seeds with their heavy bills. The showy male puts in equal time on the domestic front: both sexes sit on the eggs, feed the young, and feistily defend their nesting territory.

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Songs

The Black-headed Grosbeak's whistled song rises and falls like an American Robin's, but it’s longer, sweeter, more varied, and less choppy in its phrases. It's sometimes likened to that of a "drunk" or "operatic" robin. Both males and females sing. The female's song is usually shorter, simpler, and quieter. She sings less frequently than the male, usually from the nest.

Calls

The Black-headed Grosbeak's typical call is a sharp spik uttered frequently to keep contact with mates while foraging. They utter an upslurring wheet upon taking flight. Their distress call is a series of rapidly repeated notes flung out in response to imminent danger to themselves or their chicks, or in violent altercations with other grosbeaks.

Search the Macaulay Library online archive for more sounds and videos

Backyard Tips

Attract Black-headed Grosbeaks by setting out sunflower seed feeders, and don't be surprised to find them at nectar feeders set out for orioles. They'll even nest in backyards and gardens where enough cover is available and water is nearby.

Find This Bird

Listen for the Black-headed Grosbeak's rich, lilting song in the treetops and its abrupt spik call as it gleans in dense foliage from spring through summer. It may be easiest to spot at sunflower seed feeders, but you may catch a glimpse of it in almost any diverse habitat, especially those with a few large trees and complex understory.

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All About Birds blog, Here’s What to Feed Your Summer Bird Feeder Visitors, July 11, 2014.