Photo: Glenn Bartley/Vireo

Black-headed Grosbeak

Pheucticus melanocephalus

In foothills and riverside woods of the West, this species is often very common as a nesting bird. In mid-summer, the oak woodlands often resound with the insistent whining whistle of young Black-headed Grosbeaks begging for food. This is among few birds able to eat Monarch butterflies, despite the noxious chemicals those insects contain from eating milkweeds in the larval stage; in Mexico in winter, the grosbeaks eat large numbers of Monarchs.
Conservation status Widespread and common, numbers apparently stable.
Family Cardinals, Grosbeaks and Buntings
Habitat Deciduous and mixed woods. Breeds mainly in oak woodland, streamside groves of cottonwood and willow, pine-oak woods in mountains, pinyon-juniper woodland; seldom in purely coniferous forest. In migration, occurs in any kind of open woods, streamside trees, suburbs, mesquite groves, desert washes. Winters in open woods and brush of the tropics, from lowlands to mountains.
In foothills and riverside woods of the West, this species is often very common as a nesting bird. In mid-summer, the oak woodlands often resound with the insistent whining whistle of young Black-headed Grosbeaks begging for food. This is among few birds able to eat Monarch butterflies, despite the noxious chemicals those insects contain from eating milkweeds in the larval stage; in Mexico in winter, the grosbeaks eat large numbers of Monarchs.
Photo Gallery
  • adult male
  • adult female
  • immature male (1st summer)
  • juvenile female
  • adult male
Feeding Behavior

Forages mostly in shrubs and trees, searching for food among foliage. Also may forage on ground and in low growth. Sometimes hovers to take insects from foliage, or catches them in mid-air.


Eggs

3-4, sometimes 2-5. Pale greenish blue, spotted with reddish brown. Incubation is by both parents, 12-14 days; only female incubates at night. Young: Both parents feed the nestlings. Young climb out of nest after about 11-12 days, but are unable to fly for about 2 more weeks; they remain in nearby trees waiting to be fed. Probably 1 brood per year.


Young

Both parents feed the nestlings. Young climb out of nest after about 11-12 days, but are unable to fly for about 2 more weeks; they remain in nearby trees waiting to be fed. Probably 1 brood per year.

Diet

Mostly insects, seeds, and berries. In summer feeds on many insects, including beetles, caterpillars, wasps, bees, flies, and many others, also spiders and snails. Feeds on seeds of various weeds, and eats berries of many plants (including mistletoe and poison oak) as well as some cultivated fruit. Young are fed mostly insects at first.


Nesting

Male sings to defend nesting territory. In courtship, male performs song flights above female, flying with wings and tail fully spread while singing almost continuously. Nest: Placed in tree or large shrub (usually deciduous), 3-25' above the ground, usually about 10-12' up. Nest (built mostly or entirely by female) is an open cup, loosely constructed and bulky, made of twigs, weeds, rootlets, pine needles, lined with fine plant fibers, rootlets, and animal hair.

Illustration © David Allen Sibley.
Learn more about these drawings.

Text © Kenn Kaufman, adapted from
Lives of North American Birds

Migration

Tends to migrate late in spring and early in fall. Some birds begin to appear away from nesting areas as early as mid-July. Strays rarely reach Atlantic Coast, generally in late fall or winter.

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Migration

Tends to migrate late in spring and early in fall. Some birds begin to appear away from nesting areas as early as mid-July. Strays rarely reach Atlantic Coast, generally in late fall or winter.

  • All Seasons - Common
  • All Seasons - Uncommon
  • Breeding - Common
  • Breeding - Uncommon
  • Winter - Common
  • Winter - Uncommon
  • Migration - Common
  • Migration - Uncommon
Songs and Calls
Rich warble similar to that of a robin but softer, sweeter, and faster. Call note an emphatic, sharp tick, slightly metallic in tone.
Audio © Lang Elliott, Bob McGuire, Kevin Colver, Martyn Stewart and others.
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How climate change could affect this bird's range

In the broadest and most detailed study of its kind, Audubon scientists have used hundreds of thousands of citizen-science observations and sophisticated climate models to predict how birds in the U.S. and Canada will react to climate change.

Learn more

Read more: climate.audubon.org
Cardinals Perching Birds

Black-headed Grosbeak

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season.

More on reading these maps.

Each map is a visual guide to where a particular bird species may find the climate conditions it needs to survive in the future. We call this the bird’s “climatic range.”

The colors indicate the season in which the bird may find suitable conditions— blue for winter, yellow for summer (breeding), and green for where they overlap (indicating their presence year-round).

The darker the shaded area, the more likely it is the bird species will find suitable climate conditions to survive there.

The outline of the approximate current range for each season remains fixed in each frame, allowing you to compare how the range will expand, contract, or shift in the future.

The first frame of the animation shows where the bird can find a suitable climate today (based on data from 2000). The next three frames predict where this bird’s suitable climate may shift in the future—one frame each for 2020, 2050, and 2080.

You can play or pause the animation with the orange button in the lower left, or select an individual frame to study by clicking on its year.

The darker the color, the more favorable the climate conditions are for survival. The outlined areas represent approximate current range for each season. More on reading these maps.
Winter
Summer

Winter Range
Summer Range
Both Seasons
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