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Rose-breasted Grosbeak Life History


ForestsRose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in moist deciduous forests, deciduous-coniferous forests, thickets, and semiopen habitats across the northeastern United States, ranging into southeastern and central Canada. They gravitate toward second-growth woods, suburban areas, parks, gardens, and orchards, as well as shrubby forest edges next to streams, ponds, marshes, roads, or pastures. During migration, grosbeaks stop in a wide variety of habitats including primary and secondary forest, wet and dry forest, shrub thickets, pine woods, shrubby dune ridges, scrub, urban areas, and wetlands. They spend the winter in forests and semiopen habitats in Central and South America, often in middle elevations and highlands (up to about 11,000 feet in Colombia).Back to top


InsectsDuring the breeding season Rose-breasted Grosbeaks eat a lot of insects, as well as wild fruit and seeds. They mostly feed on berries during fall migration, and on their wintering grounds they have a varied diet of invertebrates and plant material. Grosbeaks usually glean their food from dense foliage and branches. They also snag food while hovering, and sometimes fly out to hawk for insects in midair. The animal portion of their diet includes beetles, bees, ants, sawflies, bugs, butterflies, and moths. Their vegetarian fare includes elderberries, blackberries, raspberries, mulberries, juneberries, and seeds of smartweed, pigweed, foxtail, milkweed, plus sunflower seeds, garden peas, oats, wheat, tree flowers, tree buds, and cultivated fruit.Back to top


Nest Placement

TreeThe male may help the female choose a nest site, which is usually in a vertical fork or crotch of a sapling. Nesting plants include maple, red-berried elder, balsam fir, eastern hemlock, and spruce, and may be in wet or dry areas. They are usually in forest openings, overgrown field edges, old pastures, shrubby roads, railroad rights-of-way, gardens, parks, or residential areas. The male and female each may test the nest site’s suitability by settling into it and turning around several times.

Nest Description

The male and female build the nest together in 4–9 days, working from dawn to dusk. They construct a loose, open cup of coarse sticks, twigs, grasses, weed stems, decayed leaves, or straw, and line it with fine twigs, rootlets, or hair. Sometimes the nest is so flimsy that you can see the outline of the eggs through it. The birds’ habit of using forked twigs may help hold the nest together despite its thin construction. The finished nest measures about 3.5–9 inches across and 1.5–5 inches high on the outside, while the inner cup is about 3–6 inches across and 1–3.5 inches deep.

Nesting Facts

Clutch Size:1-5 eggs
Number of Broods:1-2 broods
Egg Length:0.8-1.1 in (2-2.7 cm)
Egg Width:0.6-0.8 in (1.6-1.9 cm)
Incubation Period:11-14 days
Nestling Period:9-12 days
Egg Description:Pale green to blue, with reddish brown or purplish speckles.
Condition at Hatching:Helpless, with sparse white down and closed eyes.
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Foliage GleanerMales sing to establish territories and attract females. When a female approaches, the male rebuffs her for a day or two before accepting her as a mate. Once mated, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks appear to be monogamous. A breeding pair will tolerate migrant males in their territory if the intruder is silent. Otherwise, territorial males ward off male intruders by spreading their tails, flicking their wings, raising their crown feathers, and often chasing the intruder away. Males respond strongly to recordings of Rose-breasted Grosbeak songs and Black-headed Grosbeak songs, but they attack mounted specimens of their own species 5 times more often than they attack specimens of the other species. Females drive off other females that approach their mate. Both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks share incubation, brooding, and feeding duties at the nest. Nest predators include Blue Jays and Common Grackles—which breeding grosbeaks will mob noisily and aggressively near the nest—along with red and gray squirrels. Adult grosbeaks are hunted by predators such as Cooper’s Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks. During migration and winter Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are found individually, in pairs, or in loose flocks, sometimes with other species.Back to top


Low Concern

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are common forest birds, but their populations experienced a slow decline from 1966 to 2019, according to the North American Breeding Bird Survey. Partners in Flight estimates a global breeding population of 4.7 million and rates them 11 out of 20 on the Continental Concern Score, indicating a species of relatively low conservation concern. These birds nest in saplings, so numbers could be dropping as forests mature over the eastern United States. Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are commonly trapped for sale as cage birds in their wintering range because they look and sound pretty, and this has had an unknown impact on their population.

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Lutmerding, J. A. and A. S. Love. (2020). Longevity records of North American birds. Version 2020. Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Bird Banding Laboratory 2020.

Partners in Flight (2019). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2019.

Partners in Flight. (2020). Avian Conservation Assessment Database, version 2020.

Sauer, J. R., D. K. Niven, J. E. Hines, D. J. Ziolkowski Jr., K. L. Pardieck, J. E. Fallon, and W. A. Link (2019). The North American Breeding Bird Survey, Results and Analysis 1966–2019. Version 2.07.2019. USGS Patuxent Wildlife Research Center, Laurel, MD, USA.

Sibley, D. A. (2014). The Sibley Guide to Birds, second edition. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, NY, USA.

Wyatt, Valerie E. and Charles M. Francis. (2002). Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, New York, USA.

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