Grosbeak means big bill as can be seen on this colorful male black-headed grosbeak that I photographed at our feeder last summer. They belong to the finch family and have the ability to crack open sunflower seeds to get the kernel while letting the hulls fall away.
These grosbeaks breed from southern British Columbia south through North Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas, Arizona, California, and of course Washington, Idaho and Oregon. They spend their winters in the tropical forests of Mexico.
They return to the United States in April with their bright, new plumage where the males select their nesting site and start singing almost continually to announce their territory and challenge other males to keep away from whatever thicket where their nest will be hidden. Their song is quite melodious and is used to attract a mate. The male black-headed grosbeak takes his turn at incubating the eggs and the males are such prolific singers that they even sing while sitting on their nests.
However, their nests are nothing very spectacular compared with the swinging hammock of an oriole or the mud-baked walls of a robin. These grosbeaks just cram a cluster of coarse twigs into a crotch of a tree usually about 10 or 12 feet from the ground. Of course they line the bottom of the nest with soft, finer materials for their four eggs.
Their young are born with large beaks and huge appetites and when they leave the nest they follow their parents around begging for food for another two weeks. Like several other members of the finch family, they feed their babies almost as many insects as vegetable matter. Here in Wallowa County we have numerous elderberry trees whose berries are among their favorite foods.
By July, the continuous singing of the male grosbeaks subsides and by September they lose some of their bright coloring just before their trip south of the border. Then its, See you next April!