Magic mirror on the wall, who is the fairest one of all?
Story by Lucy Elam + Photos courtesy of Wild Birds Unlimited
White as snow, red as blood and black as ebony, the rose-breasted grosbeak is essentially the songbird version of Snow White. Named for the striking plumage of the males, these migratory birds come whistling through the Lowcountry on their voyage south for the winter. Pleasing to both the eye and ear, the rose-breasted grosbeak is renowned for its beautiful song. According to the famed American ornithologist Arthur Cleveland Bent, “It sings a long phrase with a well-defined form like a pretty little poem, sung in the softest of tones full of delicacy and charm, a voice of syrupy sweetness like no other bird.” Suffice to say that the tune of the rose-breasted grosbeak is certainly worth hearing.
Not nearly as eye-catching as the males, females and young are streaked white and brown with a distinctive face pattern and large bill. In their summer habitat both females and males work together to build the nest, incubate the eggs and feed the young. The monogamous pair often sing together while nesting, and males are known to continue singing while sitting on the eggs.
In the fall, rose-breasted grosbeaks move south through the Carolinas, with peak migration occurring mid-August through mid-October. Rose-breasted grosbeaks often visit bird feeders and will make use of bird baths. Even though the Lowcountry is outside of their summer range, you can still catch one visiting during migration (if you keep your feeders stocked). Keep an eye out for these birds in forest edges and woodlands, and like many other birds, they tend to use shrub thickets for food and cover when they rest along their migratory route. Don’t miss your chance to catch a glimpse of these melodious birds before they find their way south of the equator.
•The rose-breasted grosbeak is beneficial to farmers, consuming many potato beetles and weed seeds.
•The rose-breasted grosbeak will breed with the black-headed grosbeak in areas where their ranges overlap.
•It’s the heavy, blunt bill for which the term “grosbeak” is derived. “Gros” is a German term for large or big, so grosbeak simply means a large-beaked bird.
Where to see them
•Savannah National Wildlife Refuge
•Caw Caw Interpretive Center (Ravenel, South Carolina)
Find a full line of feeders, seeds and accessories for backyard bird feeding at Wild Birds Unlimited in Festival Centre at Indigo Park on Hilton Head Island.