To get to know the rose-breasted grosbeak during the breeding season, you’ll have to visit the higher elevations where — from late April into May — they locate their nests at between 3,200 and 5,000 feet. When the female is on the nest, the male will often perch nearby and sing.
Roger Tory Peterson describes the rose-breasted’s voice: “Song, rising and falling passages; resembles robin’s song, but mellower, given with more feeling (as if a robin has taken voice lessons).”
Adult males in breeding plumage have shiny black heads and throats and boldly patterned black-and-white wings, while the underparts are white. But what’ll catch your eye is the triangular carmine-red breast. Farmers used to call the bird “throat-cut” because of this vivid somewhat irregular marking.
There’s no mistaking the male red-breasted; and while his mate is less grandly marked —having brown upperparts with a striped crown and streaky underparts — she, too, has the same bustling vitality and mannerisms. There’s a certain sturdy dignity and forcefulness about this species. They always seem to be going about their business in a workmanlike, cheerful manner.
During fall migration these birds can been seen at the lowest elevations. Females are often accompanied by both immature females and males. Sometimes, as is the instance this fall, there are mixed flocks of both males and females.
Grosbeaks rarely sing during migration. But their call note is a very metallic “chink – chink – chink.”