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Help develop a Bird ID tool!

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Pheucticus ludovicianus ORDER: PASSERIFORMES FAMILY: CARDINALIDAE

IUCN Conservation Status: Least Concern

Bursting with black, white, and rose-red, male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are like an exclamation mark at your bird feeder or in your binoculars. Females and immatures are streaked brown and white with a bold face pattern and enormous bill. Look for these birds in forest edges and woodlands. Listen, too, for their distinctive voices. They sound like American Robins, but listen for an extra sweetness, as if the bird had operatic training; they also make a sharp chink like the squeak of a sneaker.

Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.
Drink Birds & Beans coffee. Save our birds.

Keys to identification Help

Finchlike
Finchlike
Typical Voice
  • Size & Shape

    Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are stocky, medium-sized songbirds with very large triangular bills. They are broad-chested, with a short neck and a medium-length, squared tail.

  • Color Pattern

    Adult males are black-and-white birds with a brilliant red chevron extending from the black throat down the middle of the breast. Females and immatures are brown and heavily streaked, with a bold whitish stripe over the eye. Males flash pink-red under the wings; females flash yellowish. Both sexes show white patches in the wings and tail.

  • Behavior

    These chunky birds use their stout bills to eat seeds, fruit, and insects. They are also frequent visitors to backyard bird feeders, where they eat sunflower seeds with abandon. The sweet, rambling song of a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a familiar voice of eastern forests; their sharp “chink” calls are also very distinctive.

  • Habitat

    Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in eastern forests; you can find them among both deciduous trees and conifers. They are most common in regenerating woodlands and often concentrate along forest edges and in parks. During migration, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks frequent fruiting trees to help fuel their flights to Central and South America.

Range Map Help

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Range Map
View dynamic map of eBird sightings

Field MarksHelp

  • Adult male

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Large songbird with very thick, pale bill
    • Black above and white below with white patches on wing
    • Bright, rosy pink patch on breast
    • © Gary Tyson, Tioga County, Pennsylvania, June 2010
  • Female

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Female
    • Large, stocky songbird with heavy, pale bill
    • Brown above with contrasting stripes on head
    • Pale underparts with thin, dark streaks on breast
    • White wing-bars usually visible
    • © Kelly Dilello, May 2009
  • Immature male

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Immature male
    • Large, stocky songbird
    • Immature male is similar to female but with rosy wash appearing on breast
    • Massive, conical bill
    • © Cameron Rognan, Sapsucker Woods, Ithaca, New York, July 2008
  • Immature Male

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Immature Male
    • Heavy-bodied with very thick bill
    • Young, molting males have characteristics of adult male and female
    • Distinctive rosy patch on white breast
    • © Kelly Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, September 2010
  • Adult male

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Adult male
    • Large, stocky songbird
    • Massive, pale bill
    • Contrasting black and white plumage
    • Rosy red patch on breast
    • © Mary Fran, May 2009
  • Female

    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    Female
    • Heavy-bodied, stocky songbird
    • Very heavy, pale bill
    • Pale underparts with thin, brown streaks
    • Bold striped pattern on head
    • © Joel DeYoung, Holland, Michigan, May 2011

Similar Species

  • Female

    Black-headed Grosbeak

    Female
    • Similar to female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
    • Darker bill
    • Fewer and fainter streaks on breast, usually confined to flanks
    • Sometime shows yellow or golden wash on face
    • © Mike Wisnicki, Grand Forks, British Columbia, Canada, May 2010
  • Female

    Purple Finch

    Female
    • Much smaller than female Rose-breasted Grosbeak
    • Smaller bill
    • More heavily streaked below
    • Lacks wing-bars
    • © Kelly Azar, Chester County, Pennsylvania, October 2010
  • Adult female

    Red-winged Blackbird

    Adult female
    • Similar to female Rose-breasted Grosbeak, but more slender and less stocky
    • Longer, thinner, more sharply-pointed bill
    • Heavier, darker streaks on underparts
    • Darker and more patterned above
    • © hjhipster, Forsythe NWR, Oceanville, New Jersey, May 2010

Similar Species

Adult male Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are unmistakable. Females and immatures look very similar to Black-headed Grosbeaks. Fortunately, these two species overlap only in the Great Plains, so check range maps to help with your identification. Female and immature Black-headed Grosbeaks usually have paler buffy-orange underparts with much less streaking; the upper half of the bill is also grayish rather than pinkish like a Rose-breasted Grosbeak’s. Be aware that these two species hybridize where their ranges meet on the Great Plains. Female and immature Purple Finches are considerably smaller than grosbeaks; their stout bills are less immense than a grosbeak’s; and they have shorter, obviously notched tail tips.

Backyard Tips

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks often visit bird feeders, where they eat sunflower seeds as well as safflower seeds and raw peanuts. Even if you live outside their summer range you may still catch one visiting during spring or fall migration if you keep your feeders stocked.

Find This Bird

A good way to find Rose-breasted Grosbeaks is to listen for them. The song sounds like an American Robin in an unusually good mood—a long sing-songing string of sweet whistles. Once you hear one, follow the sound until you walk up under his song perch and look for his black, white, and red plumage. Also pay attention for squeaky chink calls—so sharp-sounding that they’re very distinctive. Both males and females frequently give this call. In flight, look for a distinctive pattern of big white spots in their dark wings.