Rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) are monogamous birds who mate for life, and the male shares incubation duties with the female by taking its turn sitting on the nest. Kylee Baumle/Paulding County Progress
Rose-breasted grosbeaks (Pheucticus ludovicianus) are monogamous birds who mate for life, and the male shares incubation duties with the female by taking its turn sitting on the nest. Kylee Baumle/Paulding County Progress
When I started getting more involved with gardening, there were so many other things that I discovered. It was like going down the proverbial rabbit hole – first this caught my interest and then that. I soon learned that gardening was about a lot more than flowers and vegetables.

Many plants depend on insects to complete their life cycles and many insects depend on plants to complete theirs. Birds also need insects and seeds from plants to feed themselves and their young, and a large majority of birds make their nests in trees and shrubs. You can see just how interdependent all these things are.

Over the last two weeks, there have been many reports of rose-breasted grosbeaks visiting backyard feeders in our area. We’ve personally seen them in the past at our feeders, but it’s been quite a few years since we’ve seen any. So far this year, we’ve caught four males and two females feeding at the same time at the platform feeder just outside our family room window.

My first encounter with this extraordinary bird was in the mid-1960s when one hit the picture window of the house where I grew up, in Haviland. Unfortunately, the bird didn’t survive. I never saw another one until about ten years ago. I’m sure they were around in the years between, but I wasn’t paying attention.

Why are so many people seeing so many of them this year? I looked online to see if there was unusual activity reported, like an irruption. An irruption is generally described as an unusually large number of a species appearing in an area where they aren’t usually seen in such numbers. These typically occur in fall or winter, and are the result of the birds seeking a food source.

I didn’t find anything notable about their activity, but they clearly are making their presence known. Range maps vary somewhat, according to source, but we’re on the southern border of their summer breeding range with them sometimes just migrating through. Climate change is thought to be having an effect on the usual range of many species of organisms, so perhaps these two factors will cause the grosbeaks to stay a little longer than usual.

In any case, we’re being treated to the beauty of this bird, or should I say, the beauty of the male sex of this bird. While most bird species have showier males than females, the male and female grosbeaks are dramatically different. The males command attention, with their black, white, and rose colors, but the females are streaked and striped with brown and white, and often escape detection because of it.

Rose-breasted grosbeaks like to dine on sunflower and safflower seeds, and peanuts, and they put their thick beaks to good use on them. But their diet is also highly dependent on insects. They’re a gardener’s friend, because they eat potato beetles and many weed seeds. They also feed on grasshoppers, crickets, and other larger invertebrates.

These beautiful birds are most commonly seen in our area during the month of May, so keep your eyes open and you might catch a glimpse of them stopping off on their way to points further north, or they may choose your property to raise their young.

Read more at Kylee’s blog, Our Little Acre, at www.ourlittleacre.com. Contact her on Facebook or by email at pauldingprogressgardener@gmail.com.