Common Name: Black Headed Grosbeak
Scientific name: Pheucticus melanocephalus
Here in the Truckee Meadows, we are likely to be visited by two species of grosbeaks - the Black-headed Grosbeak in spring and summer, the Evening Grosbeak in winter.
Black-headed Grosbeak is a spring and summer visitor in our area, and winters in Mexico. Breeding males are a rich orange-cinnamon with a black head and black and white wings. Females and immatures are brown above with warm orange or buff on the breast. In flight, look for the beautiful bright yellow under the wings. Their bills are large and conical like other grosbeaks.
Habitat preferences are very diverse-they may be found from mixed woodlands, mountain forests, thickets along desert streams, to gardens and backyards. Ideal habitat seems to be a combination of large trees and a rich understory. Preferred nesting sites are in the outer branches of small trees or a bush near a stream. Oxbow Nature Study Area is a good place in Reno to look for them during nesting season.
The song of the Black-headed Grosbeak is a real treat, sounding very robin-like. Both male and female are loud songsters; the female's song is usually a simplified version of the males. The male courts the female with singing and flight displays that involve fluttering up from a perch, singing and spreading his wings and tail, and settling back on the same perch. Both parents sit on the eggs, feed the young and defend their nesting territory. They will drive away predators like Scrub Jays and Steller's Jays.
Insects and spiders make up about 60% of their breeding season diet, supplemented by seeds and fruits. They will visit backyard feeders for sunflower seed, and possibly even nectar feeders put out for orioles. Check with the staff at Moana Nursery for tips on seed and feeders for both types of grosbeaks.
Black-headed Grosbeak / Male Description
- Breeding (Alternate) Plumage: Head black (sometimes broken by partial or complete eyestripe of bright cinnamon); wings and tail black with sharply contrasting white spots; breast, rump, nape, and flanks brilliant cinnamon; and a patch of lemon-yellow on belly
- Nonbreeding (Basic) Plumage: similar, but dark feathers tipped with buff, hiding much of plumage pattern.
Black-headed Grosbeak / Female Description
Head brown with buffy to white (occasionally lemon-yellow) crown and eye stripe, a pale chin, brown wings and tail with indistinct buffy spots, and heavily streaked body plumage that is dull cinnamon to buff with variable amounts of yellow.
For more information on Black-headed Grosbeaks, visit one of the three Moana Nursery store locations: 1100 W. Moana Ln. & 11301 S. Virginia St., Reno and 7644 Pyramid Hwy., Sparks.
Carmel Ruiz-Hilton is Manager of Wild Birds Unlimited Nature Shops at Moana Nursery in Reno/Sparks