The Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) is a brightly colored relative of Cardinals and Tanagers. These migratory birds have a wide distribution in the Northeast, but birdwatchers in the south might be lucky enough to spot them en route between their nesting and overwintering grounds. Would you like to know what Rose-breasted Grosbeaks eat and how to attract them to your yard?
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have specialized bills but a pretty general diet of insects, seeds, fruit, and other plant matter. They will visit feeders, especially if sunflower seeds, peanuts, and safflower seeds are on the menu. Away from backyards, they feed among the foliage of trees and bushes.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks make short work of hard food like sunflower seeds with their powerful crushing bills. They can also crush tough insects like beetles, which really comes in handy when feeding young chicks.
In this article, we’ll take an in-depth look at one of America’s most dapper songbirds, the Rose-breasted Grosbeak. Read along to learn how these birds make a living out in the wild and how you can attract them to your backyard.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are particularly fond of sunflower seeds in backyard bird feeders
Insects are the major component of the Rose-breasted Grosbeak diet. However, they are not easy to provide at a bird feeder. Sunflower seeds are the best food to attract these birds to your backyard.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks eat various wild and cultivated seeds. They pluck seeds directly from the branches of trees, shrubs, and weeds, but they will also visit bird feeders and occasionally forage on the ground.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are known to feed on the following seeds:
Close up of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak at a seed feeder (sunflower seeds)
A large proportion of the Rose-breasted Grosbeaks’ diet consists of insects and other invertebrates. Beetles (Coleoptera) are a staple component of their diet.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks also hunt for the following insects:
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks forage for wild fruits like blackberries, juneberries, mulberries, and elderberries. They will also eat cultivated fruits like oranges if provided at feeding stations.
Fruit is an important food source for Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, particularly when fueling their southward migration in the fall. These birds may swallow or discard the skins and seeds, depending on the type of fruit.
Male Rose-breasted Grosbeak eating wild berries
Male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks have similar diets, although they forage from different heights in trees and shrubs to minimize competition for food. Keep reading to learn more about their foraging behaviors.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will feed every day, including during nesting and migrating. Small birds eat a surprisingly large amount of food, although the actual amount varies depending on weather, time of year, food quality, and other factors.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will visit feeders, both on their northern breeding grounds and while migrating to and from their overwintering grounds in Central and South America.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will visit a variety of feeders, although they prefer designs with plenty of perching space. Platform feeders are ideal, but hopper and larger tube feeders with perches are also good bets.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are diurnal birds that forage during the day and sleep at night. You might spot these colorful birds searching for food in a leafy tree or visiting a bird feeder at any time of the day.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks prefer feeders with plenty of perching space, ideal for them to perch and graze
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks use their keen eyesight to spot insects and seeds in their environment. These birds have also learned to visit bird feeders for a free meal, and listening out for the excited calls of other feeding birds might help them find feeders before they see them.
They eat most of their food directly off plant surfaces, but they can also catch bugs in flight or pluck food while hovering. They might even hang upside down from flexible branches.
Grosbeaks watch bugs with a hawklike gaze when hunting, following them with their eyes before going for the catch.
The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks’ winter diet is poorly known because it has not been studied outside North America. However, they are believed to eat both insects and plant matter at all times of the year.
Studies have shown that Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feed on almost equal amounts of plant and animal foods in the summer.
One extensive study from the early 20th century found that insects made up just over half of their summer diet. Wild berries and fruits made up about a fifth, and seeds and crops made up a further fifth. The remainder consists of other plant matter like buds and flowers.
Both male and female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks feed their chicks a diet of insects and plant matter. Crushed insect larvae are the primary food source, but they also include seeds. The young birds start catching their own insects by their sixth week after hatching.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak foraging on the forest floor, behind a moss-covered log
Would you like to welcome Rose-breasted Grosbeaks to your yard? The good news is that these colorful birds often visit feeders both on migration and near their nesting grounds.
It is perfectly OK to feed Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, but you must put their well-being first.
Follow these rules when feeding backyard birds:
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will accept a variety of foods at backyard bird feeding stations. Offer these common bird foods for the best results:
Wild birds usually avoid food sources they don’t want, but quality and freshness matters too. Do not feed Rose-breasted Grosbeaks any moldy or rotten foods or fermented fruits. You should also avoid bread, candy, and salty foods.
Rose-breasted Grosbeak enjoying seeds from a bird feeder, during the spring in Louisiana
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks drink fresh water. They dip their bill into the water and draw the liquid in with movements of their throat. Next, they tip their head back to help them swallow.
You can attract these birds to your yard by installing a bird bath, bird bowl, or garden pond. It’s best to keep your bird bath out of the sun in summer and clean it out regularly to keep it safe and sanitary.
The best way to attract Rose-breasted Grosbeaks (and many other songbirds) is to provide food and fresh water. You could simply put out a bird bath and a bird feeder, but consider planting native plants that produce berries and encourage insects.
That way, you can provide natural foraging grounds.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in the Northeast, Midwest, and in Canada. However, that doesn’t mean birdwatchers from further south can't enjoy watching these thick-billed songbirds.
Make sure you have your feeders out (and filled) during April, May, October, and November to stand a chance at attracting them while they migrate north and south.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks are wonderful birds to have around. Not only are they easy on the eye, but these birds are also beautiful singers. Bird watchers have complimented their song in all sorts of creative ways, but hopefully, you will hear their sweet singing for yourself this spring.
Female Rose-breasted Grosbeak taking a drink of water from a bird bath
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks eat a variety of wild and cultivated seeds. They love striped and black sunflower seeds but will readily eat cracked corn, oats, and wheat too.
Safflower seeds are a great food source for attracting Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. As an added benefit, squirrels and European Starlings are less likely to eat these thick-hulled seeds than softer options.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks will happily feed on grape jelly. In fact, this sugary treat attracts a host of beautiful songbirds, from Orioles to Tanagers.
Rose-breasted Grosbeaks enjoy eating fruit, and they will happily snack on cut oranges and other sweet citrus fruits at your bird feeding station.
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